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Author o/tkt ' Inquiry into the Nature and Causes <if the Wealth «/" Nations: 






HARVARD O:. I. ;;.a;:iTY 

!-tbOi:: |C 


Adam Smith, the author of these Essays and of the 'Inquiry into 
the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,' was bom at 
Kirkaldy, June 5, 1723, a few months after the death of his father. 
He was a sickly child, and indulged by his mother, who was the object 
of his fiUal gratitude for sixty years. When about three years old, and 
at the house of Douglass of Strathenry, his mother's brother, he was 
carried off by tinkers or gipsies, but soon recovered from tKem. At the 
burgh school of his native town he ihade rapid progress, and soon 
attracted notice by his passion for books, and by the extraordinary 
powers of his memory. His weakness of body prevented him joining 
in athletic sports, but his generous and friendly temperament made 
him a favourite with his schoolmates ; and he was noted then, as 
through after life, for absence in company and a habit of speaking 
to himself when alone. From the granwnar school of Kirkaldy, he was 
sent, in 1737, to the University of Glasgow, whence, in 1740, he went 
to Baliol College, Oxford, enjoying an exhibition on the Snell founda- 
tion. When at Glasgow College, his favourite studies were mathe- 
matics and natural philosoi)hy, but that did not long divert his mind 
from pursuits more congenial to him, more particularly the political 
history of mankind, which gave scope to the power of his com- 
prehensive genius, and gratified his ruling passion of contributing 
to the happiness and the improvement of society. To his early taste 
for Greek generally, may be due the clearness and fulness with which 
he states his political reasonings. At Oxford he employed himself fre- 
quently in the practice of translation, with a view to the improvement 
of his own style, and used to commend such exercises to all who culti- 
vate the art of composition. He also cultivated with the greatest care 
the study of languages ; and his knowledge of them led him to a 
peculiar experience in everything that could illustrate the institutions, 
the manners, and the ideas of different ages and nations. 

After a residence at Oxford of sevei\ years, he returned to Kirkaldy, 
and lived two years with his mother, engaged in studies, but without 
any fixed plan for his future life. He had been originally destined for 
the Church of England ; but not finding the ecclesiastical profession 
suitable to his taste, he took chance of obtaining some of those mode- 
rate preferments, to which literary attainments lead in Scotland. 
Removing to Edinburgh in 1748, he read lectures on rhetoric and 
belles lettres, under the patronage of Lord Karnes; and when in 
Edinburgh became intimate with David Hume. 

In 1 75 1 he was elected Professor of Logic in the University of 
Glasgow ; and, the year following, he became Professor of Moral 
Philosophy there ; a situation he held for thirteen years, and used to 
look back on as the most useful and happy of his life ; and, though but 
a narrow scene for his ambition, may have led to the future eminence 
of his literary character. In delivering his lectures, Mr. Smith trusted 


almost entirely to extemporary elocution. His manner, though not 
graceful, was plain and unaffected, and he never failed to interest his s 
hearers. E^vch discourse consisted commonly of several distinct pro- 
positions, which he successively endeavoured to prove and illustrate. 
At first he often appeared to speak with hesitation ; but, as he advanced, 
the matter seemed to crowd upon him, his mamier became warm and 
animated, and his expression easy and fluent. His reputation as a 
philosopher attracted a multitude of students from a great distance to 
the University ; and those branches of science which he taught became 
fashionable, and his opinions were the chief topics of discussion in the 
clubs and literary societies of Glasgow. While Adam Smith became 
thus eminent as a public lecturer, he was gradually laying the founda- 
tion of a more extensive reputation by preparing for the press his 
System of Morals ; and the first edition of his Essays appeared in 
1757, under the title of The Theory of Moral Sentiments. 

Of this essay, Dugald Stewart remarks, * that whatever opinion we 
may entertain of the justness of its conclusions, it must be allowed to 
be a singular effort of invention, ingenuity, and subtilty ; that it con- 
tains a large mixture of important truth, and has had the merit of 
directing the attention of philosophers to a view of human nature, 
which had formerly in a great measure escaped their notice ; and no 
work, undoubtedly, can be mentioned, ancient or modem, which ex- 
hibits so complete a view of those facts with respect to our moral per- 
ceptions, which it is ojie great object of this branch of science to refer 
to their general laws ; and well deserves the careful study of all whose 
taste leads them to prosecute similar enquiries. These facts are pre- 
sented in the most happy and beautiful lights ; and when the subject 
leads him to address the imagination and the heart, the variety and 
felicity of his illustrations, the richness and fluency of his eloquence ; 
and the skill with which he wins the attention and commands the pas- 
sions of his readers, leave him, among our EngHsh moralists, without a 
rival. Towards the close of 1763, Mr. Smith arranged to visit the 
continent with the Duke of Buccleugh, returning to London in 1766. 
For the next ten years he lived quietly with his mother at Kirkaldy ; 
and in 1 776, accounted to the world for his long retreat, by the pubHc- 
ation of his * Inquiry into the Nature and- Causes of the 
Wealth of Nations.' In 1778, Mr. Smith was appointed a Com- 
missioner of Customs in Scotland, the pecuniary emoluments of which 
were considerable. In 1784, he lost his mother. In 1788, his cousin, 
Miss Douglass, died, to whom he had been strongly attached ; and in 
July, 1790, he died, having, a short while before, in conversation with 
his friend Riddell, regretted that * he had done so little.' 

fAbove biQ^aphip notes and literary opinions have been abridged from a paper on ' The 
Life and Writings of Adam Smith,' by rrofessor Dugald Stewart, of Edinburgh, 1793*— A. M.j 


Since the first publication of the Theory of Moral Sentiments, 
which was in the beginning of the year 1759, several corrections, and a 
good many illustrations of the doctrines contained in it, have occurred 
to me. But the various occupations in which the different accidents of 
my life necessarily involved me, have till now prevented me from 
revising this work with the care and attention which I always intended. 
The reader will find the principal alterations which I have made in this 
New Edition , in th e last Chapter of the third Section of Part First ; 
and in the four first Chapters of Part Third. PaTt_Sixth^ as it stands 
m this New lEdition^ is_aJtogether new. In Part Seyenlb^ J_ have 
T ffou^ t tojg etEer t hejggater part of thcdifferent passages concerning 
the Stoical Philosophy, which, in the former Editions^ had been scat- 
tered about in different parts of the work. I have likewise endeavoured 
"lb explain more fully, and examine more distinctly, some of the doc- 
trines of that famous sect. In the fourth and last Section of the same 
Parf^T havp. thrnwn tng^Vipg a frw a/\tl\tlana\ observations concerning 
the~dii ty and the principle of veracity. There are, besides, in other 
parts of the work, a few other alterations and corrections of no 
great moment 

In the last paragraph of the first Edition of the present work, I said 
that I should in another discourse endeavour to give an account of the 
general principles of law and government, and of the different revolu- 
tions which they had undergone in the different ages and periods of 
society ; not only in what concerns justice, but in what concerns police, 
revenue, and arms, and whatever else is the object of law. In the 
Inquiry concerning the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations^ 
I have partly executed this promise ; at least so far as concerns police, 
revenue, and arms. What remains, the theory of jurisprudence, which 
I have long projected, I have hitherto been hindered from executing, by 
the same occupations which had till now prevented me from revising 
the present work. Though my very advanced age leaves me, I acknow- 
ledge, very little expectation of ever being able to execute this great 
work to my own satisfaction ; yet, as I have not altogether abandoned 
the design, and as I wish still to continue under the obligation of doing 
what I can, I have allowed the paragraph to remain as it was published 
more than thirty years ago, when I entertained no doubt of being able 
to execute every thing which it announced. 





The much lamented author of these Essays left them in the hands 
of his friends to be disposed of as they thought proper, having im- 
mediately before his death destroyed many other manuscripts which 
he thought unfit for being made public. When these were inspected, 
the greater number of them appeared to be parts of a plan he once 
had formed, for giving a connected history of the liberal sciences and 
elegant arts. It is long since he found it necessary to abandon that 
plan as far too extensive ; and these parts of it lay beside him 
neglected until his death. His friends are persuaded, however, that 
the reader will find in them that happy connection^ that full and 
accurate expression, and that clear illustration which are conspicuous 
in the rest of his works ; and that though it is difficult to add much to 
the great fame he so justly acquired by his other writings, these will 
be read with satisfaction and pleasure. 



Part I. 


Sec. I. Ofthe Sense of Propriety 9 

Ch. I. • Of Sympathy 9-13 

Ch. II. Of the Pleasure of Mutual Sympathy .... 13-16 
Ch. III., IV. Of the manner in which we judge of the Propriety or 
Impropriety of the. Affections of other Men, by. their Concord of 

Dissonance with our own 1 6-23 

Ch. v.- Oflheatoiable and respectable Virtues .... 23-26 

Sec. II. • Of the Degrees of the different Passions which are con- 
sistent with Propriety .26 

Ch. I. Of the Passions which take their Origin from the Body . 26-30 
Ch. II. Of those Passions which take their Origin from a par- 
ticular Turn or Habit of the Imagination .... 30-32 

Ch. III. Of the unsocial Passions ....... 32-37 

Ch. IV. Of the social Passions . • . . \ . . . 37-39 

Ch. V. Of the selfish Passions . . . . . . . 39-41 

Sec. III. Of the Effects of Prosperity and Adversity upon the 
Judgment of Mankind with regard to the Propriety of Action ; 
and why it is more easy to. obtain their Approbation in the one 
State than in the other. 42 

Ch. I. That though our Sympathy with Sorrow is generally a more 
lively Sensation than our Sympathy with Joy, it commonly falls 
much more short of the Violence of what is naturally felt by the 

Person principally concerned 

Ch. II. Of the Origin of Ambition, and of the Distinction of Ranks 
Ch. III. Of the Corruption of our Moral Sentiments, which is 
occasioned by this Disposition, to admire the Rich and the Great>^ 
and to despise or neglect Persons of poor and mean Condition . P 



Part II. 


Sec. I. OftheSenseofMerit and Demerit— Introduction • • 6x 
Ch. I. That whatever appears to be the proper Object of Gratitude, 
appears to deserve Reward ; and that, in the same Manner, 
whatever appears to be the proper Object of Resentment, ap- 
pears tQ deserve Punishment 61-63 



Ch. it. Of the proper Objects of Gratitude and Resentment. . 63-T65 
Ch. III. That where there is no Approbation of the Conduct of the 
Person who confers the Benefit, there is little Sympathy with 
the Gratitude of him who receives it : and that, on the contrary, 
where there is no Disapprobation of the Motives of the Person 
who does the Mischief, there is no sort of Sympathy with the 
Resentment of him who suffers it . . . . • . 65-67 
Ch. IV. Recapitulation of the foregoing Chapters. . • . 67-68 
Ch. V. The Analysis of the Sense of Merit and Demerit . ' . 68-70 

Sec. II. Of Justice and Beneficence 

Ch. I. Comparison of those two Virtues 70-75 

Ch. II. Of the sense of Justice, of Remorse, and of the Conscious/ 

ness of Merit j 7S"'78 

Ch. III. Of the Utility of this Constitution of Nature . . . 78-84 

Sec. III. Of the Influence of Fortune upon the Sentiments of M«^^ 
kind, with regard to the Merit jor Demerit of Actions- 
Introduction . ... . \ . . •'./. 84-85 

Ch. I. ' Of the Causes of this Influence of Fortune . . V/, 85-88 
Ch. II.* or the Extent of this Influence of Fortune . . y^/i' 88-95 
Ch. III. Of the final Cause of this Irregularity of Sentiments . 96-99 

Part III. 


Ch. I. Of the Principle of Self-approbation and of Self-disappro- 
bation . . 99-102 

Ch. II. Of the Love of Praise, and of that of Praise -worthiness ; and 

of the Dread of Blame, and of that of Blame-worthiness. . 102-118 

Ch. III. Of the Influence and Authority of Conscience . . 118-137 

Ch. IV. Of the Nature of Self-deceit,' and of the Origin and Use 

of general Rules 137-142 

Ch. V. Of the Influence and Authority of the general Rules of 
Morality, and that they are justly regarded as the IJaws of the 
Deity I42-150 

Ch. VI. In what Cases the Sense of Duty ought to be the sole Prin- 
ciple of our Conduct ;* and in what Cases it ought to concur 
with other Motives .... ... 150-158 

Part IV. 


Ch. I. Of the Beauty which' the Appearance of Utility bestows upon 
all the Productions of Art, and of the extensive Influence of . 
ttos Species of Beauty 158-165 

Ch. II. Of the Beauty which the Appearance of Utility bestows 
upon the Characters and Actions of Men; and how far the Per- ; 
ception of this Beauty may be regarded as one of the original 
Principles of Approbation •. . . , « , , 165-171 



Part V. 


Ch. I. Of the Influence of Custom and Fashion upon our Notions 

of Beauty and Deformity 1 71-176 

Ch. II. Of the Influence of Custom and Fashion upon Moral 

Sentiments 176-187 

; ;• ; Part VI. 


Sec. I. Of the Character of the Individual, so far as it affects his 

own Happiness ; or of Prudence ...•«. 187-192 

Sec. II. Of the Character of. the Individual, .so far as it can affect 

the Happiness of other People — Introduction • . . • 192-193 

Ch. I. Of the Order in which Individuals are recommended by 

Nature to our Care and Attention 193-20I 

Ch. II. Of the Order in which Societies are by Nature recom- 
mended to our Beneficence '. *. 201-208 

Ch. III. Of universal Benevolence 208-210 

Sec. III. Of Self-command . . .' 210-233 

Conclusioii of the Sixth Part 233-236 

Part VII. 


Sec I. Of the Questions which ought to be examined in a Theory 

of Moral Sentiments 236-237 

Sec. II. Of the different Accounts which have been given of the 

Nature of Virtue— Introduction 237 

Ch. I. Of those Sjrstems which make Virtue consist in Propriety 237-260 
Ch. II. Of those Systems which make Virtue consist in Prudence . 260-265 
Ch. III. Of those Systems which make Virtue consist in Benevo- 
lence .'.•.'... 265-271 

Ch. IV. Of licentious Systems •271-278 

Sec. III. Of the different Systems which have been formed con- 
cerning the Principle of Approbation — Introduction . . 279 

Ch. I. Of those Systems which deduce the Principle of Approba- 
tion from Self-love 279-281 

Ch. II. Of those Systems which make Reason the Principle of 

Approbation 282-284 

Ch. III. Of those Systems which make Sentiment the Principle 

of Approbation 285-290 

Sec. IV. Of the Manner in which different Authors have treated of 

the practical Rules of Morality 290-304 



Considerations concerning the Formation op Languages. 305-325 


The Principles which lead and direct Philosophical In- 
quiries, AS illustrated by the History of Astronomy 327-328 

Sec. I. Of the Effects of Unexpectedness, or of Surprise , ,328-331 
Sec. II. Of Wonder, or the Effects of Novelty . . . .331-339 

Sec. III. Of the Origin of Philosophy 340-344 

Sec. IV. The History of Astronomy 344-384 

The Principles which lead and direct Philosophical In- 

Physics 385*395 

The Principles which lead and direct Philosophical In- 

AND Metaphysics ........ 395-405 

Of the Nature of that Imitation which taeies place in 


Part L, 405-415. Part IL, 415-432. Part III 43^-434 

Op the Affinity between Music, Dancing, and Poetry . 434-438 

Op the External Senses . . . . . . . * . 438-439 

Of the Sense of Touching, 439-444. Of the Sense 6f Tasting, 444- 
445. Of the Sense of Smelling, 445. Of the Sense of Hear- 
ing, 445-450; Ofthe Sense of Seeing 450-468 

Of the Affinity between certain English and Italian 

Verses • , . , , . .... 468-473 





Part L—Of the Propriety of Action. 

Sec. I.-— Of the Sense of Propriety. 
Chap. \.— Of Sympathy. 

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some 
principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, 
and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing 
from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or com- 
passion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others, when we 
either see it, or are made to conceive it in a very lively manner. That 
we often derive sorrow from the sorrow of others, is a matter of fact 
too obvious to require any instances to prove it ; for this sentiment, 
like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means 
confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it 
with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most 
hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it. 

As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can 
form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiv- v 
ing what we ourselves_ should feel in the like situation. Though our 
brother is upon the rack", as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our 
senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and 
never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the jmagina- 
jtiaa only that we can form any conception of what are his sensatioits. v 
Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by repre- 
senting to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the 
impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imagi- 
nations copy. By the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, 
we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it 
were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with 
him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel some- 
thing which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them. 
His agonies, when they are thus brought home to ourselves, when we 
have thus adopted and made them our own, begin at last to affect us, 



and we then tremble and shudder at the thought of what he feels. For 
as to be in pain or distress of any kind excites the most excessive sor- 
row, so to conceive or to imagine that we are in it, excites some degree 
of Ihe same emotion, in proportion to the vivacity or dulness of the 

That this is the source of our fellow-feeling for the misery of others, 
that it is by changing places in fancy with the sufferer, that we come 
either to conceive or to be affected by what he feels, may be demon- 
strated by many obvious observations, if it should not be tiiought suffi- 
ciently evident of itself. When we see a stroke aimed and just ready 
to fall upon the leg or arm of another person, we naturally shrink and 
draw back our own leg or our own arm ; and when it .does fall, we feel 
it in some measure, and are hurt by it as well as the sufferer. The 
mob, when they are gazing at a dancer on the slack rope, naturally 
writhe and twist and balance their own bodies, as they see him do, and 
as they feel that they themselves must do if in his situation. Persons 
of deUcate fibres and a weak constitution of body complain, that in 
looking on the sores and ulcers which are exposed by beggars in the 
streets, they are apt to feel an itching or uneasy sensation in the cor- 
responding part of their own bodies. The horror which they conceive 
at the misery of those wretches affects that particular part in them- 
selves more than any other ; because that horror arises from conceiving 
what they themselves would suffer, if they really were the wretches 
whom they are looking upon, and if that particular part in themselves 
was actually affected in the same miserable manner. The very force 
of this conception is sufficient, in their feeble frames, to produce that 
itching or uneasy sensation complained of. Men of the most robust 
make, observe that in looking upon sore eyes they often feel a very 
sensible soreness in their own, which proceeds from the 5ame reason ; 
that organ being in the str6ngest man more delicate, than any other 
part of the body is in the weakest. 

Neither is it those circumstances only, which create pain or sorrow, 
that call forth our fellow-feeling. Whatever is the passion which arises 
from any object in the person principally concerned, an analogous 
emotion springs up, at the thought of his situation, in the breast of 
every attentive spectator. Our joy for the deliverance of those heroes 
of tragedy or romance who interest us, is as sincere as our grief for 
their distress, and our fellow-feeling with their misery is not more real 
than that with their happiness. We enter into their gratitude towards 
those faithful friends who did not desert them in their difficulties ; and 
we heartily go along with their resentment against those perfidious 
traitors who injured, abandoned, or deceived them. In every passion 
of which the mind of man is susceptible, the emotions of the by-stander 
always correspond to what, by bringing the case home to himself, he 
imagines should be the sentiments of the sufferer. 


Pity and compassion are words appropriated to signify our fellow- 
feeling with the sorrow of others. Sympathy, though its meaning waS| 
perhaps, originally the same, may now, however, without much impro- 
priety, be made use of to denote our fellow-feeling with any passion 

Upon some occasions sympathy may seem to arise merely from the 
view of a certain emotion in another person. The passions, upon some 
occasions, may seem to be transfused from one man to another, in- 
stantaneously, and antecedent to any knowledge of what excited them 
in the person principally concerned. Grief and joy, for example, 
strongly expressed in the look and gestures of any one, at once affect 
the spectator with some degree of a like painful or agreeable emotion. 
A smiling face is, to everybody that sees it^ a cheerful object; as a 
sorrowful countenance, on the other hand, is a melancholy one. 

This, however, does not hold universally, or with regard to every 
passion. There are some passions of which the expressions excite no 
sort of sympathy, but before we are acquainted with what gave occasion 
to them, serve rather to disgust and provoke us against them. The 
furious behaviour of an angry man is more likely to exasperate us 
against himself than against his enemies. As we are unacquainted 
with his provocation, we cannot bring his case home to ourselves, nor 
conceive anything like the passions which it excites. But we plainly 
see what is the situation of those with whom he is angry, and to what 
violence they may be exposed from so enraged an adversary. We 
readily, therefore, sympathise with their fear or resentment, and are 
inunediately disposed to take part against the man from whom they 
appear to be in so much danger. 

If the very appearances of grief and joy inspire us with some degree 
of the like emotions, it is because they suggest to us the general idea 
of some good or bad fortune that has befallen the person in whom we 
observe them: and in these passions this is sufficient to have some 
little influence upon us. The effects of grief and joy terminate in the ' 
person who feels those emotions, of which the expressions do not, like 
those of resentment, suggest to us the idea of any other person for 
whom we are concerned, and whose interests are opposite to his. The 
general idea of good or bad fortune, therefore, creates some concern 
for the person who has met with it, but the general idea of provocation 
excites no sympathy with the anger of the man who has received it 
Nature, it seems, teaches us to be more averse to enter into this pas- 
sion, and, till informed of its cause, to be disposed rather to take part 
against it. 

Even our sympathy with the grief or joy of another, before we are 
informed of the cause of either, is always extremely imperfect General 
lamentations, which express nothing but the anguish of the sufferer, 
create rather a curiosity to inquire into his situation, along with some 


disposition to sympathize with him, than any actual sympathy that is 
very sensible. The first qnestion which we ask is, What has befallen 
you ? Till this be answered, though we are uneasy both from the vague 
idea of his misfortune, and still more from torturing ourselves with con- 
jectures about what it may be, yet our fellow-feeling is not very con- 

Sympathy, therefore, does not arise so much from the view of the 
passion, as from that of the situation which excites it We sometimes 
feel for another, a passion of which he himself seems to be altogether 
incapable ; because, when we put ourselves in his case, that passion 
arises in our breast from the imagination, though it does not in his 
from the reality. We blush for the impudence and rudeness of another, 
though he himself appears to have no sense of the inipropriety of his 
own behaviour; because we cannot help feeling with what confusion 
we ourselves should be covered, had we behaved in so absurd a 

Of all the calamities to which the condition of mortality exposes 
mankind, the loss of reason appears, to those who have the least spark 
of humanity, by far the most dreadful, and they behold that last stage 
of human wretchedness, with deeper commiseration than any other. 
But the poor wretch, who is in it, laughs and sings perhaps, and is 
altogether insensible of his own misery. The anguish which humanity 
feels, therefore, at the sight of such an object cannot be the reflection 
of any sentiment of the sufferer. The compassion of the spectator 
must arise altogether from the consideration of what he himself would 
feel if he was reduced to the same unhappy situation, and, what per- 
haps is impossible, was at the same time able to regard it with his pre- 
sent reason and judgment 

What are the pangs of a mother, when she hears the moanings of 
her infant that during the agony of disease cannot express what it 
feels ? In her idea of what it suffers, she joins, to its real helplessness, 
her own consciousness of that helplessness, and her own terrors for 
the unknown consequences of its disorder; and out of all these, forms, 
for her own sorrow, the most complete image of misery and distress. 
The infant, however, feels only the uneasiness of the present instant, 
which can never be great. With regard to the future, it is perfectly 
secure, and in its thoughtlessness and want of foresight, possesses an 
antidote against fear and anxiety, the great tormentors of the human 
breast, from which, reason and philosophy will, in vain, attempt to de- 
fend it when it grows up to a man. 

We sympathize even with the dead, and overlooking what is of real 
importance in their situation, that awful futurity which awaits them, we 
are chiefly affected by those circumstances which strike our senses, but 
can have no influence upon their happiness. It is miserable, we think, 
to be deprived of the light of the sun ; to be shut out from life and 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 13 

conversation ; to be laid in the cold grave, a prey to corruption and the 
reptiles of the earth ; to be no more thought of in this world, but to be 
obliterated, in a little time, from the affections, and almost from the 
memory, of their dearest friends and relations. Surely, we imagine, 
we can never feel too much for those who have suffered so dreadful a 
calamity. The tribute of our fellow-feeling seems doubly due to them 
now, when they are in danger of being forgot by every body ; and, by 
the vain honours which we pay to their memory, we endeavour, for our 
own misery, artificially to keep alive our melancholy remembrance of 
their misfortune. That our sympathy can afford them no consolation 
seems to be an addition to their calamity; and to think that all we can 
do is unavaiUng, and that, what alleviates all other distress, the regret* 
the love, and the lamentations of their friends, can yield' no comfort to 
them, serves only to exasperate our sense of their misery. The happi- 
ness of the dead, however, most assuredly, is affected by none of these 
circumstances ; nor is it the thought of these things which can ever 
disturb the profound security of their repose. The idea of that dreary 
and endless melancholy, which the fancy naturally ascribes to their 
condition, arises altogether from our joining to the change which 
has been produced upon them, our own consciousness of that change, 
from our putting ourselves in their situation, and from our lodging, if 
I may be allowed to say so, our own living souls in their inanimated 
bodies, and thence conceiving what would be our emotions in this case. 
It is from this very illusion of the imagination, that the foresight of our 
own dissolution is so terrible to us, and that the idea of those circum- 
stances, which undoubtedly can give us no pain when we are dead, 
makes us miserable while we are alive. And from thence arises one 
of the most important principles in human nature, the dread of death, 
the great poison to the happiness, but the great restraint upon the in- 
justice of mankind, which, while it afflicts and mortifies the individual, 
guards and protects the society. 

Chap. IL— Q/" the Pleasure of mutual Sympathy, 
But whatever may be the cause of sympathy, or however it may be 
excited, nothing pleases us more than to observe in other men a fellow- 
feeling with all the emotions of our own breast ; nor are we ever so 
much shocked as by the appearance of the contrary. Those who are 
fond of deducing all our sentiments from certain refinements of self- 
love, think themselves at no loss to account, according to their own 
principles, both for this pleasure and this pain. Man, say they, con- 
scious of his own weakness, and of the need which he has for the / 
assistance of others, rejoices whenever he observes that they adopt his 
own passions, because he is then assured of that assistance ; and 


grieves whenever he observes the contrary, because he is then assured 
of their opposition. But both the pleasure and the pain are always felt 
• -^ , so instantaneously, and often upon such frivolous occasions, that it 
"^\) -6* > seems evident that neither of them can be derived from any such self- 
.^' ^ .K<+ interested concideration. A man is mortified when, after having 
endeavoured to divert the company, he looks round and sees that no- 
body laughs at his jests but himself. On the contrary, the mirth of the 
company is highly agreeable to him, and he regards this correspondence 
of their sentiments with his own as the greatest applause. 

Neither does his pleasure seem to arise altogether from the additional 
vivacity which his mirth may receive from sympathy with theirs, nor 
his pain from the disappointment he meets with when he misses this 
pleasure ; though both the one and the other, no doubt, do in some 
measure. When we have read a book or poem so often that we can no 
longer find any amusement in reading it by ourselves, we can still take 
pleasure in reading it to a companion. To him it has all the graces of 
novelty ; we enter into the surprise and admiration which it naturally 
excites in him, but which it is no longer capable of exciting in us ; we 
consider all the ideas which it presents rather in the light in which they 
appear to him, than in that in which they appear to ourselves, and we 
are amused by sympathy with his amusement which thus enlivens our 
own. On the contrary, we should be vexed if he did not seem to be 
entertained with it, and we could no longer take any pleasure in reading 
it to him. It is the same case here. The mirth of the company, no 
doubt, enlivens our own mirth, and their silence, no doubt, disappoints 
us. But though this may contribute both to the pleasure which we 
derive from the one, and to the pain which we feel from the other, it is 
by no means the sole cause of either ; and this correspondence of the 
sentiments of others with our own appears to be a cause of pleasure, 
and the want of it a cause of pain, which cannot be accounted for in 
this manner. The sympathy, which my friends express with my joy, 
might, indeed, give me pleasure by enlivening that joy : but that which 
they express with my grief could give me none, if it served only to 
enliven that grief. Sympathy, however, enlivens joy and alleviates 
grief. It enlivens joy by presenting another source of satisfaction ; and 
it alleviates grief by insinuating into the heart almost the only agreeable 
sensation which it is at that time capable of receiving. 

It is to be observed accordingly, that we are still more anxious to 
communicate to our friends our disagreeable than our agreeable pas- 
sions, that we derive still more satisfaction from their sympathy with 
the former than from that with the latter, and that we are still more 
shocked by the waht of it. 

How are the unfortunate relieved when they have found out a person 
to whom they can communicate the cause of their sorrow ? Upon his 
sympathy they seem to disburthen themselves of a part of their dis- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 15 

tress : he is not improperly said to share it with them. He not only 
feels a sorrow of the same kind with that which they feel, but, as if he 
had derived a part of it to himsejf, what he feels seems to alleviate the 
weight of what they feeL Yet by relating their misfortunes they in some 
measure renew their grief They awaken in their memory the remem- 
brance of those circumstances which occasion their afiliction. Their 
tears accordingly flow faster than before, and they are apt to abandon 
themselves to all the weakness of sorrow. They take pleasure, how- . 
ever, in all this, and, it is evident, are sensibly relieved by it ; because ' 
the sweetness of his sympathy more than compensates the bitterness 
of that sorrow, which, in order to excite this sympathy, they had thus 
enlivened and renewed. The cruellest insult, on the contrary, which 
can be offered to the unfortunate, is to appear to make light of their 
calamities. To seem not to be affected with the joy of our companions 
is but want of poHteness ; but not to wear a serious countenance when 
they tell us their afflictions, is real and gross inhumanity. 

Love is an agreeable, resentment a disagreeable, passion ; and ac- . 
cordingly we are not half so anxious that our friends should adopt our * 
friendships, as that they should enter into our resentments. We can 
forgive them though they seem to be little affected with the favours 
which we may have received, but lose all patience if they seem indiffer- 
ent about the injuries which may have been done to us : nor are we 
half so angry with them for not entering into our gratitude, as for not 
sympathizing with our resentment. They can easily avoid being friends 
to our friends, but can hardly avoid being enemies to those with whom 
we are at variance. We seldom resent tlieir being at enmity with the 
first, though upon that account we may sometimes affect to make an 
awkward quarrel with them ; but we quarrel with them in good earnest 
if they live in friendship with the last. The agreeable passions of love 
and joy can satisfy and support the heart without any auxiliary pleasure. 
The bitter and painful emotions of grief and resentment more strongly 
require the healing consolation of sympathy. 

As the person who is principally interested in any event is pleased 
with our sympathy, and hurt by the want of it, so we, too, seem to be 
pleased when we are able to sympathize with him, and to be hurt when 
we are unable to do so. We run not only to congratulate the success- 
ful, but to condole with the afflicted ; and the pleasure which we find 
in the conversation of one whom in all the passions of his heart we can 
entirely sympathize with, seems to do more than compensate the pain- 
fulness of that sorrow with which the view of his situation affects us. 
On the contrary, it is always disagreeable to feel that we cannot sym- 
pathize with him, and instead of being pleased with this exemption 
from sympathetic pain, it hurts us to find that we cannot share his im- 
easiness. If we hear a person loudly lamenting his misfortunes, which 
however, upon bringing the case home to ourselves, we feel, can produce 


no such violent effect upon us, we are shocked at his grief; and, because 
we cannot ent;er into it, call it pusillanimity and weakness. It gives us 
the spleen, on the other hand, to see another too happy or too much 
elevated, as we call it, with any little piece of good fortune. We are 
disobliged even with his joy; and, because we cannot go along with it, 
call it levity and foUy. We are even put out of humour if our com- 
panion laughs louder or longer at a joke than we think it deserves ; that 
is, than we feel that we ourselves could laugh at it 

Chap. III. — Of the Manner in which we judge of the Propriety or 
Impropriety of the Affections of other Men, by their Concord or 
Dissonance with our own. 

When the original 4)assions of the person principally concerned are in 
perfect concord with the sjmipathetic emotions of tfie spectator, they 
necessarily appear to this last just and proper, and suitable to their 
objects ; and, on the contrary, when, upon bringing the case home to 
himself, he finds that they do not coincide with what he feels, they 
necessarily appear to him unjust and improper, and unsuitable to the 
causes which excite them. To approve of the passions of another, 
therefore, as suitable to their objects, is the same. thing as to observe 
that we entirely sympathize with them ; and not to approve of them as 
such, is the same thing as to observe that we do not entirely sympa- 
thize with them. The man who resents the injuries that have been 
done to me, and observes that I resent them precisely as he does, 
necessarily approves of my resentment The man whose sympathy 
keeps time to my grief, cannot but admit the reasonableness of my 
sorrow. He who admires the same poem, or the same picture, and 
admires them exactly as I do, must €urely allow the justness of my 
admiration. He who laughs at the same joke, and laughs along with 
me, cannot well deny the propriety of my laughter. On the contrary, 
the person who, upon these different occasions, either feels no such 
emotion as that which I feel, or feels none that bears any proportion to 
mine, cannot avoid disapproving my sentiments on account of their 
dissonance with his own. If my animosity goes beyond what the indig- 
nation of my friend can correspond to ; if my grief exceeds what his 
most tender compassion can go along with ; if my admiration is either 

, too high or too low to tally with his own ; if I laugh loud and heartily 
when he only smiles, or, on the contrary, only smile when he laughs 
loud and heartily ; in all these cases, as soon as he comes from con- 
sidering the object, to observe how I am affected by it, according as 
there is more or less disproportion between his sentiments and mine, I 
must incur a greater or less degree of his disapprobation : and upon 
^all occasions his own sentiments are the standards and measures by 

^ which he judges of mine. 


To approve of another man's opinions is to adopt those opinions, 
and to adopt them is to approve of them. If the same arguments 
which convince you convince me likewise, I necessarily approve of 
your conviction ; and if they do not, I necessarily disapprove of it : 
neither can I possibly conceive that I should do the one without the 
other. To approve or disapprove, therefore, of the opinions of others 
is acknowledged, by every body, to mean no more than to observe 
their agreement or disagreement with our own. But this is equally 
the case with regard to our approbation or disapprobation of the senti- 
ments or passions of others. 

There are, indeed, some cases in which we seem to approve without 
any sympathy or correspondence of sentiments, and in which, conse- 
quently, the sentiment of approbation would seem to be different from 
the perception of this coincidence. A little attention, however, will 
convince us that even in these cases our approbation is ultimately 
founded upon a sympathy or correspondence of this kind. I shall give 
an instance in things of a very frivolous nature, because in them the 
judgments of mankind are less apt to be perverted by wrong systems. 
We may often approve of a jest, and think the laughter of the company 
quite just and proper, though we ourselves do not laugh, because, 
perhaps, we are in a grave humour, or happen to have our attention 
engaged with other objects. We have learned, however, from experi- 
ence, what sort of pleasantry is upon most occasions capable of making 
us laugh, and we observe that this is one of that kind. We approve, 
therefore, of the laughter of the company, and feel that it is natural 
and suitable to its object ; because, though in our present mode we 
cannot easily enter into it, we are sensible that upon most occasions we 
should very heartily join in it 

The same thing often happens with regard to all the other passions. 
A stranger passes by us in the street with all the marks of the deepest 
affliction ; and we are immediately told that he has just received the 
news of the death of his father. It is impossible that, in this case, we 
should not approve of his grief. Yet it may often happen, without any 
defect of humanity on our part, that, so far from entering into the 
violence of his sorrow, we should scarce conceive the first movements 
of concern upon his account. Both he and his father, perhaps, are 
entirely unknown to us, or we happen to be employed about other 
things, and do iiot take time to picture out in our imagination the 
different circumstances of distress which must occur to him. We have 
learned, however, from experience, that such a misfortune naturally 
excites such a degree of sorrow, and we know that if we took time to 
consider his situation, fully in all its parts, we should, without doubt, 
most sincerely sjnnpathize with him. It is upon the consciousness of 
this conditional sympathy, that our approbation of his sorrow is founded, 
even in those cases in which that sympathy does not actually take place ; 


and the general rules derived from our preceding experience of what 
our sentiments would commonly correspond with, correct upon this, as 
upon many other occasions, the impropriety of our present emotions. 

The sentiment or affection of the heart from which any action pro- 
ceeds, and upon which its whole virtue or vice must ultimately depend, 
may be considered under two different aspects, or in two different rela- 
tions ; first, in relation to the cause which excites it, or the motive 
which gives occasion to it ; and secondly, in relation to the end which 
it proposes, or the effect which it tends to produce. 

In the suitableness or unsuitableness, in the proportion or dispropor- 
tion which the affection seems to bear to the cause or object which 
excites it, consists the propriety or impropriety, the decency or ungrace- 
fulness of the consequent action. 

In the beneficial or hurtful nature of the effects which the affection 
aims at, or tends to produce, consists the merit or demerit of the action, 
the qualities by which it is entitled to reward, or is deserving of punish- 

Philosophers have, of late years, considered chiefly the tendency of 
affections, and have given little attention to the relation which they 
stand in to the cause which excites them. In common life, however, 
when we judge of any person's conduct, and of the sentiments which 
directed it, we constantly consider them under both these aspects. 
When we blame in another man the excesses of love, of grief, of 
resentment, we not only consider the ruinous effect which they tend to 
produce, but the little occasion which was given for them. The merit 
of his favourite, we say, is not so great, his misfortune is not so dread- 
ful, his provocation is not so extraordinary, as to justify so violent a 
passion. We should have indulged, we say, perhaps, have approved 
of the violence of his emotion, had the cause been in any respect pro- 
portioned to it. 

When we judge in this manner of any affection as proportioned or 
disproportioned to the cause which excites it, it is scarce possible that 
we should make use of any other rule or canon but the correspondent 
affection in ourselves. If, upon bringing the case home to our own breast, 
we find that the sentiments which it gives occasion to, coincide and 
tally with our own, we necessarily approve of them as proportioned 
and suitable to their objects ; if otherwise, we necessarily disapprove 
of them, as extravagant and out of proportion. 

Every faculty in one man is the measure by which he judges of the 
like faculty in another. I judge of your sight by my sight, of your ear 
by my ear, of your reason by my reason, of your resentment by my 
resentment, of your love by my love. I neither have, nor can have, 
any other way of judging about them. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 19 

Chap. IV. — The same Subject continued. 
We may judge of the propriety or impropriety of the sentiments 
of another person by their correspondence or disagreement with 
our own, upon two different occasions ; either, first, when the ob- 
jects which excite them are considered without any peculiar relation, 
either to ourselves or to the person whose sentiments we judge of; 
or, secondly, when they are considered as peculiarly affecting one or 
other of us. 

I. With regard to those objects which are considered without any 
peculiar relation either to ourselves or to the person whose sentiments 
we judge of; wherever his sentiments entirely correspond with our 
own, we ascribe to him the qualities of taste and good judgment. The 
beauty of a plain, the greatness of a mountain, the ornaments of a 
building, the expression of a picture, the composition of a discourse, 
the conduct of a third person, the proportions of different quantities 
and numbers, the various appearances which the great machine of the 
universe is perpetually exhibiting, with the secret wheels and springs 
which produce them ; all the general subjects of science and taste, are 
what we and our companions regard as having no peculiar relation 
to either of us. We both look at them from the same point of view, 
and we have no occasion for sympathy, or for that imz^nary change 
of situations from which it arises, in order to produce, with regard to 
these, the most perfect harmony of sentiments and affections. If, 
notwithstanding, we are often differently affected, it arises either from 
the different degrees of attention, which our different habits of life 
allow us to give easily to the several parts of those complex objects, 
or from the different degrees of natural acuteness in the faculty of the 
mind to which they are addressed. 

When the sentiments of our companion coincide with our own in 
things of this kind, which are obvious and easy, and in which, perhaps, 
we never found a single person who differed from us, though we, no 
doubt, must approve of them, yet he seems to deserve no praise or 
admiration on account of them. But when they not only coincide with 
our own, but lead and direct our own; when in forming them he 
appears to have attended to many things which wo had overlooked, 
and to have adjusted them to all the various circumstances of their 
objects ; we not only approve of them, but wonder and are surprised 
at their uncommon and unexpected acuteness and comprehensiveness, 
and he appears to deserve a very high degree of admiration and 
applause. For approbation heightened by wonder and surprise, con- 
stitutes the sentiment which is properly called admiration, and of 
which applause is the natural expression. The decision of the man 
who judges that exquisite beauty is preferable to the grossest deformity, 
or that twice two are equal to four, must certainly be approved of by 


all the world, but will not, surely, be much admired. It is the acute 
and delicate discernment of the man of taste, who distinguishes the 
minute, and scarce perceptible differences of beauty and deformity; 
it is the comprehensive accuracy of the experienced mathematician, 
who unravels, with ease, the most intricate and perplexed proportions ; 
it is the great leader in science and taste, the man who directs and 
conducts our own sentiments, the extent and superior justness of 
whose talents astonish us with wonder and surprise, who excites 
our admiration, and seems to deserve our applause ; and upon this 
foundation is grounded the greater part of the praise which is bestowed 
upon what are called the intellectual virtues. 

The utility of those qualities, it may be thought, is what first recom- 
mends them to us ; and, no doubt, the consideration of this, when we 
come to attend to it, gives them a new value. Originally, however, we 
approve of another man's judgment, not as something useful, but as 
right, as accurate, as agreeable to truth and reality :. and it is evident 
we attribute those qualities to it for no other reason but because we 
find that it agrees with our own. Taste, in the same manner, is 
originally approved of, not as useful, but as just, as delicate, and as 
precisely suited to its object The idea of the utility of all qualities of 
this kind, is plainly an afterthought, and not what first recommends 
them to our approbation. 

2. With regard to those objects, which affect in a particular manner 
either ourselves or the person whose sentiments we judge of, it is at 
once more difficult to preserve this harmony and correspondence, and 
at the same time, vastly more important My companion does not 
naturally look at the misfortune that has befallen me, or the injury that 
has been done me, from the same point of view in which I consider 
them. They affect me much more nearly. We do not view them 
from the same station, as we do a picture, or a poem, or a system of 
philosophy, and are, therefore, apt to be very differently affected by 
them. But I can much more easily overlook the want of this corres- 
pondence of sentiments with regard to such indifferent objects as 
concern neither me nor my companion, than with regard to what 
interests me so much as the misfortune that has befallen me, or the 
injury that has been done me. Though you despise that picture, or 
that poem, or even that system of philosophy, which I admire, there is 
little danger of our quarrelling upon that account. Neither of us can 
reasonably be much interested about them. They ought all of them 
to be matters of great indifference to us both ; so that, though our 
opinions may be opposite, our affections may still be very nearly the 
same. But it is quite otherwise with regard to those objects by which 
either you or I are particularly affected. Though your judgments in 
matters of speculation, though your sentiments in matters of taste, are 
quite opposite to mine, I can easily overlook this opposition; and if I 

smith's theory OB' MORAL SENTIMENTS. 21 

have any degree of temper, I may still find some entertainment hi your 
conversation, even upon those very subjects. But if you have either 
no fellow-feeling for the misfortunes I have met with, or none that 
bears any proportion to the grief which distracts me ; or if you have 
either no indignation at the injuries I have suffered, or none that bears 
any proportion to the resentment which transports me, we can no 
longer converse upon these subjects. We become intolerable to one 
another. I can neither support your company, nor you mine. You 
are confounded at my violence and passion, and I am enraged at your 
cold insensibility and want of feeling. 

In all such cases, that there may be some correspondence of senti- 
ments between the spectator and the person principally concerned, the 
spectator must, first of all, endeavour, as much as he can, to put 
himself in the situation of the other, and to bring home to himself 
every little circumstance of distress which can possibly occur to the 
sufferer. He must adopt the whole case of his companion with all its 
minutest incidents ; and strive to render as perfect as possible, that 
imaginary change of situation upon which his sympathy is founded. 

After all this, however, the emotions of the spectator will still be 
very apt to fall short of the violence of what is felt by the sufferer. 
Mankind, though naturally sympathetic, never conceive, for what has 
befallen another, that degree of passion which naturally animates the 
person principally concerned. That imaginary change of situation, 
upon which their sympathy is founded, is but momentary. The 
thought of their own safety, the thought that they themselves are not 
really the sufferers, continually intrudes itself upon them ; and though 
it does not hinder them from conceiving a passion somewhat analogous 
to what is felt by the sufferer, hinders them from conceiving any thing 
that approaches to the same degree of violence. The person princi- 
pally concerned is sensible of this, and at the same time passionately 
desires a more complete sympathy. He longs for that relief which 
nothing can afford him but the entire concord of the affections of the 
spectators with his own. To see the emotions of their hearts, in every 
respect, beat time to his own, in the violent and disagreeable passions, 
constitutes his sole consolation. But he can only hope to obtain this 
by lowering his passion to that pitch, in which the spectators are 
capable of going along with him. He must flatten, if I may be allowed 
to say so, the sharpness of its natural tone, in order to reduce it to 
harmony and concord with the emotions of those who are about him. 
What they feel, will, indeed, always be, in some respects, different 
from what he feels, and compassion can never be exactly the same 
with original sorrow ; because the secret consciousness that the change 
of situations, from which the sympathetic sentiment arises, is but 
imaginary, not only lowers it in degree, but, in some measure, varies 
it in kind, and gives it a quite different modification. These two 


sentiments, however, may, it is evident, have such a correspondence 
with one another, as is sufficient for the harmony of society. Though 
they will never be unisons, they may be concords, and this is all that 
is wanted or required. 

In order to produce this concord, as nature teaches the spectators 
to assume the circumstance of the person principally concerned, so 
^ she teaches this last in some measure to assume those of the specta- 
tors. As they are continually placing themselves in his situation, and 
thence conceiving emotions similar to what he feels ; so he is as con- 
stantly placing himself in theirs, and thence conceiving some degree of 
that coolness about his own fortune, with which he is sensible that 
they will view it As they are constantly considering what they them- 
selves would feel, if they actually were the sufferers, so he is as con- 
stantly led to imagine in what manner he would be affected if he was 
only one of the spectators of his own situation. As their sympathy 
makes them look at it, in some measure, with his eyes, so his sympathy 
makes him look at it, in some measure, with theirs, especially when in 
their presence and acting under their observation : and as the reflected 
passion, which he thus conceives, is much weaker than the original 
one, it necessarily abates the violence of what he felt before he came 
into their presence, before he began to recollect in what manner they 
would be affected by it, and to view his situation in this candid and 
impartial light. 

The mind, therefore, is rarely so disturbed, but that the company of 
a friend will restore it to some degree of tranquillity and sedateness. 
The breast is, in some measure, calmed and composed the moment we 
come into his presence. We are immediately put in mind of the light 
i in which he will view our situation, and we begin to view it ourselves 
in the same light ; for the effect of sympathy is instantaneous. We 
expect less sympathy from a common acquaintance than from a friend : 
we cannot open to the former all those little circumstances which we 
can unfold to the latter : we assume, therefore, more tranquillity 
before him, and endeavour to fix our thoughts upon those general out- 
lines of our situation which he is willing to consider. We expect still 
less sympathy from an assembly of strangers, and we assume, there- 
fore, still more tranquillity before them, and always endeavour to bring 
down our passion to that pitch, which the particular company we are 
in may be expected to go along with. Nor is this only an assumed 
appearance : for if we are at all masters of ourselves, the presence of a 
mere acquaintance will really compose us, still more than that of a 
friend ; and that of an assembly of strangers still more than that of an 

Society and conversation, therefore, are the most powerful remedies 

^ for restoring the mind to its tranquillity, if, at any time, it has imfor- 

tunately lost it ; as well as the best preservatives of that equal and 


happy temper, which is so necessary to self-satisfaction and enjoyment 
Men of retirement and speculation, who are apt to sit brooding at 
home over either grief or resentment, though they may often have more 
humanity, more generosity, and a nicer sense of honour, yet seldom 
possess that equality of temper which is so common among men of the 

Chap. V,— Of the amiable and respectable Virtues, 
Upon these two different efforts, upon that of the spectator to enter 
into the sentiments of the person principally concerned, and upon that 
of the person principally concerned to bring down his emotions to 
what the spectator can go along with, are founded two different sets of 
virtues. The soft, the gentle, the amiable virtues, the virtues of candid 
condescension and indulgent humanity, are founded upon the one : the 
great, the awful and respectable, the virtues of self-denial, of self-govern- i 
ment, of that command of the passions which subjects all the move- 
ments of our nature to what our own dignity and honour, and the pro- 
priety of our own conduct require, take their origin from the other. 

How amiable does he appear to be, whose sympathetic heart seems 
to re-echo all the sentiments of those with whom he converses, who 
grieves for their calamities, who resents their injuries, and who 
rejoices at their good fortune ! When we bring home to ourselves the 
situation of his companions, we enter into their gratitude, and feel 
what consolation they must derive from the tender sympathy of so 
affectionate a friend. And for a contrary reason, how disagreeable 
does he appear to be, whose hard and obdurate heart feels for himself 
only, but is altogether insensible to the happiness or misery of others \ 
We enter, in this case, too, into the pain which his presence must give 
to every mortal with whom he converses, to those especially with 
whom we are most apt to sympathize, the unfortunate and the injured. 

On the other hand, what noble propriety and grace do we feel in the 
conduct of those who, in their own case, exert that recollection and 
self-command which constitute the dignity of every passion, and which 
bring it down to what others can enter into ? We are disgusted with 
that clamorous grief, which, without any delicacy, calls upon our com- 
passion with sighs and tears and importunate lamentations. But we 
reverence that reserved, that silent and majestic sorrow, which dis- 
covers itself only in the swelling of the eyes, in the quivering of the 
lips and cheeks, ixA in the distant, but affecting, coldness of the whole 
behaviour. It imposes the like silence upon us. We regard it with 
respectful attention, and watch with anxious concern over our whole 
behaviour, lest by any impropriety we should disturb that concerted 
trancuillity, which it requires so great an effort to support 

The insolence and brutality of anger, in the same manner, when we 



indulge its fury without check or restraint, is of all objects the most 
detestable. But we admire that noble and generous resentment which 
governs its pursuit of the greatest injuries, not by the rage which they 
are apt to excite in the breast of the sufferer, but by the indignation 
which they naturally call forth in that part of the impartial spectator ; 
which allows no word, no gesture, to escape it beyond what this more 
equitable sentiment would dictate ; which never, even in thought, 
attempts any greater vengeance, nor desires to inflict any greater 
punishment, than what every indifferent person would rejoice to see 

And hence it is, that to feel much for others and little for ourselves, 
that to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent affections, 
constitutes the perfection of human nature ; and can alone produce 
among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which 
consists their whole grace and propriety. As to love oiu: neighbour as 
we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great 
precept of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbour, or 
what comes to the same thing, as our neighbour is found capable of 
loving us. 

As taste and good judgment, when they are considered as qualities 
which deserve praise and admiration, are supposed to imply a delicacy 
of sentiment and an acuteness of understanding not commonly to be 
met with ; so the virtues of sensibiUty and self-conmiand are not appre- 
hended to consist in the ordinary, but in the uncommon degrees of 
those quahties. The amiable virtue of humanity requires, surely, a 
sensibility much beyond what is possessed by the rude vulgar of man- 
kind. The great and exalted virtue of magnanimity undoubtedly 
demands much more than that degree of self-command, which the 
weakest of hiortals is capable of exerting. As in the common degree 
of the intellectual qualities, there is no ability ; so in the conmion 
degree of the moral, there is no virtue. Virtue is excellence, some- 
thing unconmionly great and beautiful, which rises far above what is 
vulgar and ordinary. The amiable virtues consist in that degree of 
sensibility which surprises by its exquisite and unexpected delicacy and 
tenderness. The awful and respectable, in that degree of self-com- 
mand which astonishes by its amazing superiority over the most un- 
governable passions of human nature. 

There is, in this respect, a considerable difference between virtue 
and mere propriety ; between those quahties and actions which deserve 
to be admired and celebrated, and those which simply deserve to be 
approved of. Upon many occasions, to act with the most perfect pro- 
priety, requires no more than that common and ordinary degree of 
sensibihty or self-command which the most worthless of mankind are 
possest of, and sometimes even that degree is not necessary. Thus, to 
give a very low instance, to eat when we are hungry, is certainly, upon 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 25 

ordinary occasions, perfectly right and proper, and cannot miss being 
approved of as such by every body. Nothing, however, could be more 
absurd than to say it was virtuous. 

On the contrary, there may frequently be a considerable degree of 
' virtue in those actions which fJEill short of the most perfect propriety ; 
because they may still approach nearer to perfection than could well 
be expected upon occasions in which it was so extremely difficult to 
attain it : and this is very often the case upon those occasions which 
require the greatest exertions of self-command. There are some situa- 
tions which bear so hard upon human nature, that the greatest degree 
of self-government, which can belong to so imperfect a creature as 
man, is not able to stifle altogether the voice of human weakness, or 
reduce the violence of the passions to that pitch of moderation, in 
which the impartial spectator can entirely enter into them. Though 
in those cases, therefore, the behaviour of the sufferer fall short of the 
most perfect propriety, it may still deserve some applause, and even in 
a certain sense may be denominated virtuous. It may still manifest 
an effort of generosity and magnanimity of which the greater part of 
men are wholly incapable ; and though it fails of absolute perfection, 
it may be a much nearer approximation towards perfection, than what, 
upon such trying occasions, is commonly either to be found or to 
be expected. 

In cases of this kind, when we are determining the degree of blame 
or applause which seems due to any action, we very frequently make 
use of two different standards. The first is the idea of complete pro- 
priety and perfection, which, in those difficult situations, no human 
conduct ever did, or ever can come up to ; and in comparison with 
which the actions of all men must for ever appear blamable and im- 
perfect. The second is the idea of that degree of proximity or distance 
Irom this complete perfection, which the actions of the greater part of 
men commonly arrive at. Whatever goes beyond this degree, how far 
soever it may be removed from absolute perfection, seems to deserve 
applause ; and whatever falls short of it, to deserve blame. 

It is in the same manner that we judge of the productions of all the 
arts which address themselves to the imagination. When a critic 
examines the work of any of the great masters in poetry or painting, 
he may sometimes examine it by an idea of perfection, in his own 
mind, which neither that nor any other human work will ever come up 
to ; and as long as he compares it with this standard, he can see 
nothing in it but faults and imperfections. But when he comes to 
consider the rank which it ought to hold among other works of the 
same kind, he necessarily compares it with a very different standard, 
the common degree of excellence which is usually attained in this par- 
ticular art ; and when he judges of it by this new measure, it may often 
appear to deserve the highest applause, upon account of its approaching 




much nearer to perfection than the greater part of those works which 
can be brought into competition with it. 

Sec. II.— Of the Degrees of the Different Passions which 
ARE Consistent with Propriety. 

Introduction. — The propriety' of every passion excited by objects 
pecuHarly related to ourselves, the pitch which the spectator can go 
along with, must lie, it is evident, in a certain mediocrity. If the 
passion is too high, or if it is too low, he cannot enter into it. Grief 
and resentment for private misfortunes and injuries may easily, for 
example, be too high, and in the greater part of mankind they are so. 
They may likewise, though this more rarely happens, be too low. We 
denominate the excess weakness and fury : and we call the defect 
stupidity, insensibility, and want of spirit. We can enter into neither 
of them, but are astonished and confounded to see them. 

This mediocrity, however, in which the point of propriety consists, is 
different in different passions. It is high in some, and low in others. 
There are some passions which it is indecent to express very strongly, 
even upon those occasions, in which it is acknowledged that we cannot 
avoid feeling them in the highest degree. And there are others of 
which the strongest expressions are upon many occasions extremely 
graceful, even though the passions themselves do not, perhaps, arise 
so necessarily. The first are those passions with which, for certain 
reasons, there is little or no sympathy : the second are those with 
which, for other reasons, there is the greatest. And if we consider all 
the different passions of human nature, we shall find that they are 
regarded as decent, or indecent, just in proportion as mankind are 
more or less disposed to sympathize with them. 

Chap. I. — Of the Passions which take their Origin from the Body, 

I. It is indecent to express any strong degree of those passions which 
arise from a certain situation or disposition of the body ; because the 
company, not being in the same disposition, cannot be expected to 
sympathize with them. Violent hunger, for example, though upon many 
occasions not only natural, but unavoidable, is always indecent, and to 
eat voraciously is universally regarded as a piece of ill manners. There 
is, however, some degree of sympathy, even with hunger. It is agree- 
able to see our companions eat with a good appetite, and all expressions 
of loathing are offensive. The disposition of body which is habitual to 
a man in health, makes his stomach easily keep time, if I may be 
allowed so coarse an expression, with the one, and not with the other. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 27 

We can sympathize with the distress which excessive hunger occasions 
when we read the description of it in the journal of a siege, or of a sea 
voyage. We imagine ourselves in the situation of the sufferers, and 
thence readily conceive the grief, the fear, and consternation, which 
must necessarily distract them. We feel, ourselves, some degree of 
those passions, and therefore sympathize with them : but as we do not 
grow hungry by reading the description, we cannot properly, even in . 
this' case, be said to sympathize with their hunger. 

It is the same case with the passion by which Nature unites the two 
sexes. Though naturally the most furious of all the passions, all strong 
expressions of it are upon every occasion indecent, even between per- 
sons in whom its most complete indulgence is acknowledged by all 
laws, both human and divine, to be perfectly innocent. There seems, 
however, to be some degree of sympathy even with this passion. To 
talk to a woman as we should to a man is improper : it is expected 
that their company should inspire us with more gaiety, more pleasantry, 
and more attention ; and an entire insensibility to the fair sex, renders 
a man contemptible in some measure even to the men. 

Such is our aversion for all the appetites which take their origin from 
the body ; all strong expressions of them are loathsome and disagree- 
able. According to some ancient philosophers, these are the passions 
which we share in common with the brutes, and which, having no 
connexion with the characteristical quaUties of htunan nature, are upon 
that account beneath its dignity. But there are many other passions 
which we- share in common with the brutes, such as resentment, natural 
affection, even gratitude, which do not, upon that account, appear to be 
so brutal The true cause of the pecuhar disgust which we conceive 
for the appetites of the body when we see them in other men, is that 
we cannot enter into them. To the person himself who feds them, as 
soon as they are gratified, the object that excited them ceases to be 
agreeable : even its presence often becomes offensive to him ; he looks 
round to no purpose for the charm which transported him the moment 
before, and he can now as httle enter into his own passion as another 
person. When we have dined, we order the covers to be removed ; 
and we should treat in the same manner the objects of the most ardent 
and passionate desires, if they were the objects of no other passions ' 
but those which take their origin from the body. 

In the command of those appetites of the body consists that virtue 
which is properly called temperance. ^To restrain them within those 
bounds which regard to health and fortune prescribes, is the part of 
prudence. But to confine them within those Umits which grace, which 
propriety, which dehcacy, and which modesty, require, is the office of 

2. It is for the same reason that to cry out with bodily pain, how 
intolerable soever, appears always unmanly and unbecoming. There 



is, however, a good deal of sympathy even with bodily pain. If, as has 
already been observed, I see a stroke aimed, and just ready to fall upon 
the leg, or arm, of another person, I naturally shrink and draw back 
my own leg, or my own arm : and when it does fall, I feel it in some 
measure, and am hurt by it as well as the sufferer. My hurt, however, 
is, no doubt, excessively slight, and, upon that account, if he makes 
any violent outcry, as I cannot go along with him, I never fail to des- 
pise him. And this is the case of all the passions which take their 
origin from the body : they excite either no sympathy at all, or such a 
degree of it, as is altogether disproportioned to the violence of what is 
felt by the sufferer. 

It is quite otherwise with those passions which take their origin from 
the imagination. The frame of my body can be but little affected by 
the alterations which are brought about upon that of my companion : 
but my imagination is more ductile, and more readily assumes, if I may 
say so, the shape and configuration of the imaginations of those with 
whom I am familiar. A disappointment in love, or ambition, will, 
upon this account, call forth more sympathy than the greatest bodily 
evil Those passions arise altogether from the imagination. The 
person who has lost his whole fortune, if he is in health, feels nothing 
in his body. What he suffers is from the imagination only, which 
represents to him the loss of his dignity, neglect from his friends, con- 
tempt from his enemies, dependence, want, and misery, coming fast 
upon him ; and we sympathize with him the more strongly upon this 
account, because our imaginations can the more readily mould them- 
selves upon his imagination, than our bodies can mould themselves 
upon his body. 

The loss of a leg may generally be regarded as a more real calamity 
than the loss of a mistress. It would be a ridiculous tragedy, however, 
of which the catastrophe was to turn upon a loss of that kind. A mis- 
fortune of the other kind, how frivolous soever it may appear to be, has 
given occasion to many a fine one. 

Nothing is so soon forgot as pain. The moment it is gone the whole 
agony of it is over, and'the thought of it can no longer give us any sort 
of disturbance. We ourselves cannot then enter into the anxiety and 
anguish which we had before conceived. An unguarded word from a 
inend will occasion a more durable uneasiness. The agony which this 
creates is by no means over with the word. What at first disturbs us 
is not the object of the senses, but the idea of the imagination. As it 
is an idea, therefore, which occasions our uneasiness, till time and other 
accidents have in some measure effaced it from our memory, the ima- 
gination continues to fret and rankle within, from the thought of it. 

Pain never calls forth any very lively sympathy unless it is accom- 
panied with danger. We sympathize with the fear, though not with the 
agony of the sufferer. Fear, however, is a passion derived altogether 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 29 

from the imagination, which represents, with an uncertainty and fluc- 
tuation that increases our anxiety, not what we really feel, but what we 
may hereafter possibly suffer. The gout or the tooth-ache, though ex- 
quisitely painful, excite very little sympathy ; more dangerous diseases, 
though accompanied with very little pain, excite the highest 

Some people faint and grow sick at the sight of a chirurgical opera- 
tion, and that bodily pain which is occasioned by tearing the flesh, 
seems, in them, to excite the most excessive sympathy. We conceive 
in a much more lively and distinct manner the pain which proceeds . 
from an external cause, than we do that which arises from an internal 
disorder. I can scarce form an idea of the agonies of my neighbour 
when he is tortured with the gout, or the stone ; but I have the clearest 
conception of what he must suffer from an incision, a woimd, or a frac- 
ture. The chief cause, however, why such objects produce such violent 
effects upon us, is their novelty. One who has been witness to a dozen 
dissections, and as many amputations, sees, ever after, all operations of 
this kind with great indifference, and often with perfect insensibihty. 
Though we have read or seen represented more than five hundred 
tragedies, we shall seldom feel so entire an abatement of our sensibility 
to the objects which they represent to us. 

In some of the Greek tragedies there is an attempt to excite com- 
passion, by the representation of the agonies of bodily pain. Philo- 
ctetes cries out and faints from the extremity of his sufferings. Hip- 
polytus and Hercules are both introduced as expiring under the severest 
tortures, which, it seems, even the fortitude of Hercules was incapable 
of supporting. In all these cases, however, it is not the pain which 
interests us, but some other circumstance. It is not the sore foot, but 
the sohtude, of Philoctetes which affects us, and diffuses over that 
charming tragedy, that romantic wildness, which is so agreeable to 
the imagination. The agonies of Hercules and Hippolytus are interest- 
ing only because we foresee that death is to be the consequence. If 
those heroes were to recover, we should think the representation of their 
sufferings perfectly ridiculous. What a tragedy would that be of which 
the distress consisted in a colic ! Yet no pain is more exquisite. These 
attempts to excite compassion by the representation of bodily pain, may 
be regarded as among the greatest breaches of decorum of which the 
Greek theatre has set the example. 

The little sympathy which we feel with bodily paun, is the foundation 
of the propriety of constancy and patience in enduring it. The man, 
who under the severest tortures allows no weakness to escape him, vents 
no groan, gives way to no passion which we do not entirely enter into, 
commands our highest admiration. His firmness enables him to keep 
time with our indifference and insensibility. We admire and entirely 
go along with the magnanimous effort which he makes for this purpose. 
We approve of his behaviour, and from our experience of the common 


weakness of human nature, we are surprised, and wonder bow he should 
be able to act so as to deserve approbation. Approbation, mixed and 
animated by wonder and surprise, constitutes the sentiment which is 
properly called admiration, of which, applause is the natural expression, 
as has already been observed. 

Chap. II. — Of those Passions which take their Origin from a particular 
Turn or Habit of the Imagination, 

Even of the passions derived from the imagination, those which take 
their origin from a peculiar turn or habit it has acquired, though they 
may be acknowledged to be perfectly natural, are, however, but little 
sympathized with. The imaginations of mankind, not having acquired 
that particular turn, cannot enter into them ; and such passions, though 
they may be allowed to be almost unavoidable in some part of life, are 
always, in some measure, ridiculous. This is the case with that strong 
attachment which naturally grows up between two persons of different 
sexes, who have long fixed their thoughts upon one another. Our 
imagination not having run in the same channel with that of the lover, 
we cannot enter into the eagerness of his emotions. If our friend has 
been injured, we readily sympathize with his resentment, and grow 
angry with the very person with whom he is angry. If he has received 
a benefit, we readily enter into his gratitude, and have a very high sense 
of the merit of his benefactor. But if he is in love, though we may 
think his passion just as reasonable as any of the kind, yet we never 
think ourselves bound to conceive a passion of the same kind, and for 
the same person for whom he has conceived it. The passion appears 
to every body, but the man who feels it, entirely disproportioned to the 
value of the object ; and love, though it is pardoned in a certain age 
because we know it is natural, is always laughed at, because we cannot 
enter into it. All serious and strong expressions of it appear ridiculous 
to a third person ; and though a lover may be good company to his 
mistress, he is so to nobody else. He himself is sensible of this ; and 
as long as he continues in his sober senses, endeavours to treat his own 
passion with raillery and ridicule. It is the only style in which we care 
to hear of it ; because it is the only style in which we ourselves are dis- 
posed to talk of it. We grow weary of the grave, pedantic, and long- 
sentenced love of Cowley and Petrarca, who never. have done with 
exaggerating the violence of their attachments ; but the gaiety of Ovid, 
and the gallantry of Horace, are always agreeable. 

But though we feel no proper sympathy with an attachment of this 
kind, though we never approach even in imagination towards conceiving 
a passion for that particular person, yet as we either have conceived, or 
may be disposed to conceive, passions of the same kind, we readily 


enter into those high hopes of happiness which are proposed from its 
gratification^ as well as into that exquisite distress which is fe^ed from 
its disappointment It interests us not as a passion, but as a situation 
that gives occasion to other passions which interest us ; to hope, to fear, 
and to distress of every kind : in the same manner as in a description 
of a sea voyage, it is not the hunger which interests us, but the distress 
which that hunger occasions. Though, we do not properly enter into 
the attachment of the lover, we readily go along with those expectations 
of romantic happiness which he derives from it We feel how natural 
it is for the mind, in a certain situation, relaxed with indolence, and 
fatigued with the violence of desire, to long for serenity and quiet, to 
hope to find them in the gratification of that passion which distracts it, 
and to frame to itself the idea of that life of pastoral tranquillity and 
retirement which the elegant, the tender, and the passionate Tibullus 
takes so much pleasure in describing ; a life like what the poets describe 
in the Fortunate Islands, a life of friendship, liberty, and repose ; free 
from labour, and from care, and from all the turbulent passions which 
attend them. Even scenes of this kind interest us most, when they are 
painted rather as what is hoped, than as what is enjoyed. The gross- 
ness of that passion, which mixes with, and is, perhaps, the foundation 
of love, disappears when its gratification is far off and at a distance ; 
but renders the whole offensive, when described as what is immediately 
possessed. The happy passion, upon this account, interests us much 
less than the fearful and the melancholy. We tremble for whatever 
can disappoint such natural and agreeable hopes : and thus enter into 
all the anxiety, and concern, and distress of the lover. 

Hence it is, that, in some modern tragedies and romances, this pas- 
sion appears so wonderfully interesting. It is not so much the love of 
Castalio and Monimia which attaches us in the orphan, as the distress 
which that love occasions. The author who should introduce two 
lovers, in a scene of perfect security, expressing their mutual fondness 
for one another, would excite laughter, and not sympathy. If a scene 
of this kind is ever admitted into a tragedy, it is always, in some mea- 
sure, improper, and is endured, not from any sympathy with the passion 
that is expressed in it, but from concern for the dangers and difficulties 
with which the audience foresee that its gratification is likely to be 

The reserve which the laws of society impose upon the fair sex, with 
regard to this weakness, renders it more peculiarly distressful in them, 
and, upon that very account, more deeply interesting. We are charmed 
with the love of Phaedra, as it is expressed in the French tragedy of 
that name, notwithstanding all the extravagance and guilt which attend 
it That very extravagance and guilt may be said, in some measure, to 
recommend it to us. Her fear, her shame, her remorse, her horror, 
her despair, become thereby more natural and interesting. All the 


secondary passions, if I may be allowed to call them so, which arise 
from the situation of love, become necessarily more furious and violent ; 
and it is with these secondary passions only that we can properly be 
said to sympathize. 

Of all the passions, however, which are so extravagantly dispropor- 
tioned to the value of their objects, love is the only one that appears, 
even to the weakest minds, to have any thing in it that is either grace- 
ful or agreeable. In itself, first of all, though it may be ridiculous, it is 
not naturally odious ; and though its consequences are often fatal and 
dreadful, its intentions are seldom mischievous. And then, though 
there is little propriety in the passion itself, there is a good deal in 
some of those which always accompany it. There is in love a strong 
mixture of humanity, generosity, kindness, friendship, esteem ; passions 
with which, of all others, for reasons which shall be explained iname- 
diately, we have the greatest propensity to sympathize, even notwith- 
standing we are sensible that they are, in some measure, excessive. 
The sympathy which we feel with them, renders the passion which 
they accompany less disagreeable, and supports it in our imagination, 
notwithstanding all the vices which commonly go along with it; though 
in the one sex it necessarily leads to the last ruin and infamy ; and 
though in the other, where it is apprehended to be least fatal, it is 
almost always attended with an incapacity for labour, a neglect of 
duty, a contempt of fame, and even of common reputation. Notwith- 
standing all this, the degree of sensibility and generosity with which it 
is supposed to be accompanied, renders it to many the object of vanity ; 
and they are fond of appearing capable of feeling what would do them 
no honour if they had really felt it 

It is for a reason of the same kind, that a certain reserve is necessary 
when we talk of our own friends, our own studies, our own professions. 
All these are objects which we cannot expect should interest our com- 
panions in the same degree in which they interest us. And it is for 
want of this reserve, that the one half of mankind make bad company 
to the other. A philosopher is company to a philosopher only ; the 
member of a club, to his own little knot of companions. 

Chap. III.— Of the unsocial Passions, 

There is another set of passions, which, though derived from the 
imagination, yet before we can enter into them, or regard them as 
graceful or becoming, must always be brought down to a pitch much 
lower than that to which undisciplined nature would raise them. These 
are, hatred and resentment, with all their different modifications. With 
regard to all such passions, our sympathy is divided between the per- 
son who feels them, and the person who is the object of thenu The 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 33 

interests of these two are directly opposite. What our sympathy with 
the person who feels them would prompt us to wish for, our fellow- 
feeling with the other would lead us to fear. As they are both men, we 
are concerned for both, and our fear for what the one may suffer, damps 
our resentment for what the other has suffered. Our sympathy, there- 
fore, with the man who has received the provocation, necessarily falls 
short of the passion which naturally animates him, not only upon 
account of those general causes which render all sympathetic passions 
inferior to the original ones, but upon account of that particular cause 
which is peculiar to itself, our opposite sympathy with another person. 
Before resentment, therefore, can become graceful and agreeable, it 
must be more humbled and brought down below that pitch to which it 
would naturally rise, than almost any other passion. 

Mankind, at the same time, have a very strong sense of the injuries 
that are done to another. The villain, in a tragedy or romance, is as 
much the object of our indignation, as the hero is that of our sympathy 
and affection. We detest lago as much as we esteem Othello ; and 
dehght as much in the punishment of the one, as we are grieved at the 
distress of the other. But though mankind have so strong a fellow- 
feeling with the injuries that are done to their brethren, they do not 
always resent them the more that the sufferer appears to resent them. 
Upon most occasions, the greater his patience, his mildness, his 
hmnanity, provided it does not appear that he wants spirit, or that fear 
was the motive of his forbearance, the higher the resentment against 
the person who injured him. The amiableness of the character exas- 
perates their sense of the atrocity of the injury. 

These passions, however, are regarded as necessary parts of the cha- 
racter of human nature. A person becomes contemptible who tamely 
sits still, and submits to insults, without attempting either to repel or 
to revenge them. We cannot enter into his indifference and insensi- 
bility : we call his behaviour mean-spiritedness, and are as really pro- 
voked by it as by the insolence of his adversary. Even the mob are 
enraged to see any man submit patiently to affronts and ill usage. 
They desire to see this insolence resented, and resented by the person 
who suffers from it. They cry to him with fury, to defend or to 
revenge himself. If his indignation rouses at last, they heartily ap- 
plaud, and sympathize with it. It enlivens their own indignation 
against his enemy, whom they rejoice to see him attack in turn, and 
are as really gratified by his revenge, provided it is not immoderate, as 
if the injury had been done to themselves. 

But though the utility of those passions to the individual, by render- 
ing it dangerous to insult or to injure him, be acknowledged ; and though 
their utility to ■ the J^ublic, as the guardians of justice, and of the 
equality of its administration, be not less considerable, as shall be 
shewn hereafter; yet there is still something disagreeable in the pas- 


sions themselves, which makes the appearance of them in other men 
the natural object of our aversion. The expression of anger towards 
any body present, if it exceeds a bare intimation that we are sensible 
of his ill usage, is regarded not only as an insult to that particular 
person, but as a rudeness to the whole company. Respect for them 
ought to have restrained us from giving way to so boisterous and offen- 
sive an emotion. It is the remote effects of these passions which are 
agreeable; the immediate effects are mischief to the person against 
whom they are directed. But it is the immediate, and not the remote 
, effects of objects which render them agreeable or disagreeable to the 
imagination. A prison is certainly more useful to the pubKc than a 
palace ; and the person who founds the one is generally directed by a 
much juster spirit of patriotism, than he who builds the other. But the 
inamediate effects of a prison, the confinement of the wretches shut up 
in it, are disagreeable ; and the imagination either does not take time 
to trace out the remote ones, or sees them at too great a distance to be 
much affected by them. A prison, therefore, will always be a disagree- 
able object; and the fitter it is for the purpose for which it was 
intended, it will be the more so. A palace, on the contrary, will 
always be agreeable ; yet its remote effects may often be inconvenient 
to the public. It may serve to promote luxury, and set the example of 
the dissolution of manners. Its immediate effects, however, the con- 
veniency, the pleasure, and the gaiety of the people who live in it, 
being all agreeable, and suggesting to the imagination a thousand 
agreeable ideas, that faculty generally rests upon them, and seldom 
goes further in tracing its more distant consequences. Trophies of 
the instruments of music or of agriculture, imitated in padnting or in 
stucco, make a conmion and an agreeable ornament of our halls and 
dining rooms. A trophy of the same kind, composed of the instru- 
ments of surgery, of dissecting and amputation-knives, of saws for 
cutting the bones, of trepanning instruments, &c., would be absurd and 
shocking. Instruments of surgery, however, are always more finely 
polished, and generally more nicely adapted to the purposes for which 
they are intended, than instruments of agriculture. The remote effects 
of them too, the health of the patient, is agreeable ; yet as the imme- 
diate effect of them is pain and suffering, the sight of them always 
displeases us. Instruments of war are agreeable, though their imme- 
diate effect may seem to be in the same manner pain and suffering. 
But then it is the pain and suffering of our enemies, with whom we 
have no sympathy. With regard to us, they are immediately con- 
nected with the agreeable ideas of courage, victory, and honour. They 
are themselves, therefore, supposed to make one of the noblest parts of 
dress, and the imitation of them one of the finest ornaments of archi- 
tecture. It is the same case with the quahties of the mind. The 
ancient stoics were of opinion, that as the world was governed by the 


all-ruling providence of a wise, powerful, and good God, every single 
event ought to be regarded, as making a necessary part of the plan of 
the universe, and as tending to promote the general orderand happi- 
ness of the whole : that the vices and follies of mankind, therefore, 
made as necessary a part of this plan as their wisdom or their virtue ; 
and by that eternal art which educes good from ill, were made to tend 
equally to the prosperity and perfection of the great system of nature. 
No speculation of this kind, however, how deeply soever it might be 
rooted in the mind, could diminish our natural abhorrence for vice, 
whose immediate effects are so destructive, and whose remote ones are 
too distant to be traced by the imagination. 

It is the same case with those passions we have been just now con- 
sidering. Their immediate effects are so disagreeable, tiiat even when 
they are most justly provoked, there is still something about them 
which disgusts us. These, therefore, are the only passions of which 
the expressions, as I formeiiy observed, do not dispose and prepare us 
to sympathize with them, before we are informed of the cause which 
excites them. The plaintive voice of misery, when heard at a distance, 
will not allow us to be indifferent about the person from whom it comes. 
As soon as it strikes our ear, it interests us in his fortune, and, if con- 
tinued, forces us almost involuntarily to fly to his assistance. The sight 
of a smiling countenance, in the same manner, elevates even the pen- 
sive into that gay and airy mood, which disposes him to sympathize 
with, and share the joy which it expresses ; and he feels his heart, 
which with thought and care was before that shrunk and depressed, in- 
stantly expanded and elated. But it is quite otherwise with the expres- 
sions of hatred and resentment. The hoarse, boisterous, and discordant 
voice of anger, when heard at a distance, inspires us either with fear or 
aversion. We do not fly towards it, as to one who cries out with pain 
and agony. Women, and men of weak nerves, tremble and are over- 
come with fear, though sensible that themselves are not the objects of 
the anger. They conceive fear, however, by putting themselves in the 
situation of the person who is so. Even those of stouter hearts are 
disturbed ; not indeed enough to make them afraid, but enough to make 
them angry ; for anger is the passion which they would feel in the situ- 
ation of the other person. It is the same case with hatred. Mere 
expressions of spite inspire it against nobody, but the man who uses 
them. Both these passions are by nature the objects of our aversion. 
Their disagreeable and boisterous appearance never excites, never 
prepares, and often disturbs our sympathy. Grief does not more power- 
fully engage and attract us to the person in whom we observe it, than 
these, while we are ignorant of their cause, disgust and detach us from 
him. It was, it seems, the intention of Nature, that those rougher and 
more unamiable emotions, which drive men from one another, should 
be less easily and more rarely communicated. 


When music imitates the modulations of grief or joy, it either 
actually inspires us with those passions, or at least puts us in the mood 
which disposes us to conceive them* But when it imitates the notes of 
anger, it inspires us with fear. Joy, grief, love, admiration, devotion, 
are all of them passions which are naturally musicaL Their natural 
tones are all soft, clear, and melodious ; and they naturally express 
themselves in periods which are distinguished by regular pauses, and 
which upon that account are easily adapted to the regular returns of 
the correspondent airs of a tune. The voice of anger, on the contrary, 
and of all the passions which are akin to it, is harsh and discordant 
Its periods too are all irregular, sometimes very long, and sometimes 
very short, and distinguished by no regular pauses. It is with difficulty 
therefore, that music can imitate any of those passions ; and the music 
which does imitate them is not the most agreeable. A whole en- 
tertainment may consist, without any impropriety, of the imitation 
of the. social and agreeable passions. It would be a strange enter- 
tainment which consisted altogether of the imitations of hatred and 

If those passions are disagreeable to the spectator, they are not less 
so to the person who feels them. Hatred and anger are the greatest 
poison to the happiness of a good mind. There is, in the very feeUng 
of those passions, something harsh, jarring, and convulsive, something 
that tears and distracts the breast, and is altogether destructive of that 
composure and tranquillity of mind which is so necessary to happiness, 
and which is best promoted by the contrary passions of g^titude and 
love. It is not the value of what they lose by the perfidy and ingrati- 
tude of those they live with, which the generous and hiunane are most 
apt to regret Whatever they may have lost, they can generally be very 
happy without it What most disturbs them is the idea of perfidy and 
ingratitude exercised towards themselves; and the discordant and 
disagreeable passions which this excites, constitute, in their own 
opinion, the chief part of the injury which they suffer. 

How many things are requisite to render the gratification of resent- 
ment completely agreeable, and to make the spectator thoroughly sym- 
pathize with our revenge ? The provocation must first of all be such 
that we should become contemptible, and be exposed to perpetual 
insults, if we did not, in some measure, resent it Smaller offences are 
always better neglected ; nor is there any thing more despicable than 
that froward and captious humour which takes fire upon every slight 
occasion of quarrel We should resent more from a sense of tie pro- 
priety of resentment, from a sense that mankind expect and require it 
of us, than because we feel in ourselves the furies of that disagreeable 
passion. There is no passion, of which the human mind is capable, 
concerning whose justness we ought to be so doubtful, concerning 
whose indulgence we ought so carefully to consult our natural sense of 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 37 

propriety, or so diligently to consider what will be the sentiments of the 
cool and impartial spectator. Magnanimity, or a regard to maintain 
our own rank and dignity in society, is the oWy motive which can en- 
noble the expressions of this disagreeable passion. This motive must 
characterize our whole style and deportment These must be plain, 
open, and direct ; determined without positiveness, and elevated with- 
out insolence ; not only free from petulance and low scurrility, but gen- 
erous, candid, and full of all proper regards, even for the person who 
has offended us. It must appear, in short, from our whole manner, 
without our labouring affectedly to express it, that passion has not ex- 
tinguished our humanity ; and that if we yield to the dictates of revenge, 
it is with reluctance, from necessity, and in consequence of great and 
repeated provocations. When resentment is guarded and qualified in 
this manner, it may be admitted to be even generous and noble. 

Chap. W.^Of the Social Passions. 

As it is a divided sympathy which renders the whole set of passions 
just now mentioned, upon most. occasions, so ungraceful and disagree- 
able : so there is another set opposite to these, which a redoubled 
sympathy renders almost always peculiarly agreeable and becoming. 
Generosity, humanity, kindness, compassion, mutual friendship and 
esteem, all the social and benevolent affections, when expressed in the 
countenance or behaviour, even towards those who are not peculiarly 
connected with ourselves, please the indifferent spectator upon almost 
every occasion. His sympathy with the person who feels those pas- 
sions, exactly coincides with his concern for the person who is the 
object of them. The interest, which* as a man, he is obliged to take 
in the happiness of this last, enlivens his fellow-feeling with the senti- 
ments of the other, whose emotions are employed about the same 
object. We have always, therefore, the strongest disposition to sympa- 
thize with the benevolent affections. They appear in every respect 
agreeable to us. We enter into the satisfaction both of the person who 
feels them, and of the person who is the object of them. For as to be 
the object of hatred and indignation gives more pain than all the evil 
which a brave man can fear from his enemies ; so there is a satisfaction 
in the consciousness of being beloved, which, to a person of delicacy 
and sensibility, is of more importance to happiness, than all the advan- 
tage which he can expect to derive from it What character is so detest- 
able as that of one who takes pleasure to sow dissention among friends, 
and to turn their most tender love into mortal hatred ? Yet wherein 
does the atrocity of this so much abhorred injury consist? Is it in 
depriving them of the frivolous good offices, which, had their friend- 
ship continued, they might have expected from one another ? It is in 


depriving them of that friendship itself, in robbing them of each other's 
affections, from which both derived so much satisfaction ; it is in dis- 
turbing the harmony of their hearts, and putting an end to that happy- 
commerce which had before subsisted between them. These affections, 
that harmony, this commerce, are felt, not only by the tender and the 
delicate, but by the rudest vulgar of mankind, to be of more importance 
to happiness than all the little services which could be expected to flow 
from them. 

The sentiment of love is, in itself, agreeable to the person who feels 
it. It soothes and composes the breast, seems to favour the vital 
motions, and to promote the healthful state of the human constitution ; 
and it is rendered still more delightful by the consciousness of the 
gratitude and satisfaction which it must excite in him who is the object 
of it. Their mutual regard renders them happy in one another, and 
sympathy, with this mutual regard, makes them agreeable to every 
other person. With what pleasure do we look upon a family, through 
the whole of which reign mutual love and esteem, where the parents 
and children are companious for one another, withput any other differ- 
ence than what is made by respectful affection on the one side, and 
kind indulgence on the other; where freedom and fondness, mutual 
raillery and mutual kindness, show that no opposition of interest divides 
the brothers, nor any rivalship of favour sets the sisters at variance, 
and where every thing presents us with the idea of peace, cheerfulness, 
harmony, and contentment? On the contrary, how uneasy are we 
made when we go into a house in which jarring contention sets one 
half of those who dwell in it against the other; where, amidst affected 
smoothness and complaisance, suspicious looks and sudden starts of 
passion betray the mutual jealousies which bum within them, and 
which are every moment ready to burst out through all the restraints 
which the presence of the company imposes ? 

Those amiable passions, even when they are acknowledged to be 
excessive, are never regarded with aversion. There is something agree- 
able even in the weakness of friendship and humanity. The too tender 
mother, the too indulgent father, the too generous and affectionate 
friend, may sometimes, perhaps, on account of the softness of their 
natures, be looked upon with a species of pity, in which, however, there 
is a mixture of love, but can never be regarded with hatred and aver- 
sion, nor even with contempt, unless by the most brutal and worthless 
of mankind. It is always with concern, with sympathy and kindness, 
that we blame them for the extravagance of their attachment. There 
is a helplessness in the character of extreme humanity which more 
than any thing interests our pity. There is nothing in itself which 
renders it either ungraceful or disagreeable. We only regret that it is 
unfit for the world, because the world is unworthy of it, and because it 
must expose the person who is endowed with it as a prey to the perfidy 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 39 

and ingratitude of insinuating falsehood, and to a thousand pains and 
uneasinesses, which, of all men, he the least deserves to feel, and which 
generally too he is, of all men, the least capable of supporting. It is 
quite otherwise with hatred and resentment. Too violent a propensity 
to those detestable passions, renders a person the object of universal 
dread and abhorrence, who, like a wild beast, ought, we think, to be 
hunted out of all civil society. 

Chap. V.—Of the Selfish Passions. 

Besides those two opposite sets of passions, the social and unsocial, 
there is another which holds a sort of middle place between them ; is 
never either so graceful as is sometimes the one set, nor is ever so 
odious as is sometimes the other. Grief and joy, when conceived upon 
account of our own private good or bad fortune, constitute this third 
set of passions. Even when excessive, they are never so disagreeable 
as excessive resentment, because no opposite sympathy can ever in- 
terest us against them : and when most suitable to their objects, they 
are never so agreeable as impartial humanity and just benevolence ; 
because no double sympathy can ever interest us for them. There is, 
however, this difference between grief and joy, that we are generally 
most disposed to sympathize with small joys and great sorrows. The 
man who, by some sudden revolution of fortune, is hfted up all at once 
into a condition of life, greatly above what he had formerly lived in, 
may be assured that the congratulations of his best friends are not all 
of them perfectly sincere. An upstart, though of the greatest merit, is 
generally disagreeable, and a sentin^eiit of envy commonly prevents us 
from heartily sympathizing with his joy. If he has any judgment, he 
is sensible of this, and instead of appearing to be elated with his good 
fortune, he endeavours, as much as he can, to smother his joy, and 
keep down that elevation of mind with which his new circumstances 
naturally inspire him. He affects the same plainness of dress, and the 
same modesty of behaviour, which became him in his former station. 
He redoubles his attention to his old friends, and endeavours more 
than ever to be humble, assiduous, and complaisant And this is the 
behaviour which in his situation we most approve of ; because we ex- 
pect, it seems, that he should have more sympathy with our envy and 
aversion to his happiness, than we have with his happiness. It is 
seldom that with all this he succeeds. We suspect the sincerity of his 
humility, and he grows weary of this constraint. In a little time, 
therefore, he generally leaves all his old friends behind him, some of 
the meanest of them excepted, who may, perhaps, condescend to be- 
come his dependents : nor does he always acquire any new ones ; the 


pride of his new connections is as much affronted at finding him their 
equal, as that of his old ones had been by his becoming their superior; 
and it requires the most obstinate and persevering modesty to atone 
for this modification to either. He generally grows weary too soon, 
and is provoked, by the sullen and suspicious pride of the one, and by 
the saucy contempt of the other, to treat the first with neglect, and the 
second with petulance, till at last he grows habitually insolent, and 
forfeits the esteem of aU. If the chief part of human happiness arises 
from the consciousness of being beloved, as I believe it does, those 
sudden changes of fortune seldom contribute much to happiness. He 
is happiest who advances more gradually to greatness, whom the public 
destines to every step of his preferment long before he arrives at it, in 
whom, upon that account, when it comes, it can excite no extravagant 
joy, and with regard to whom it cannot reasonably create either any 
jealousy in those he overtakes, or envy in those he leaves behind. 

Mankind, however, more readily sympathize with those smaller joys 
which flow from less important causes. It is decent to be humble 
amidst great prosperity; but we can scarce express too much satis- 
faction in all the little occurrences of common life, in the company with 
which we spent the evening last night, in the entertainment that was 
set before us, in what was said and what was done, in all the little 
incidents of the present conversation, and in all those frivolous nothings 
which fill up the void of human life. Nothing is more graceful than 
habitual cheerfulness, which is always founded upon a peculiar relish 
for all the little pleasures which common occurrences afford. We 
readily sympathize with it : it inspires us with the same joy, and makes 
every trifle turn up to us in the same agreeable aspect in which it pre- 
sents itself to the person endowed with this happy disposition. Hence 
it is that youth, the season of gaiety, so easily engages our affections. 
That propensity to joy which seems even to animate the bloom, and to 
sparkle from the eyes of youth and beauty, though in a person of the 
same sex, exalts, even the aged, to a more joyous mood than ordinary. 
They forget, for a time, their infirmities, and abandon themselves to 
those agreeable ideas and emotions to which they have long been 
strangers, but which, when the presence of so much happiness recalls 
them to their breast, take their place there, like old acquaintance, from 
whom they are sorry to have ever been parted, and whom they em- 
brace more heartily upon account of this long separation. 

It is quite otherwise with grief. Small vexations excite no sympathy, 
but deep affliction calls forth the greatest The man who is made un- 
easy by every little disagreeable incident, who is hurt if either the cook 
or the butler have failed in the least article of their duty, who feels 
every defect in the highest ceremonial of politeness, whether it be 
shown to himself or to any other person, who takes it amiss that his 
intimate friend did not bid him good-morrow when they met in the 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 41 

forenoon, and that his brother hummed a tune all the time he himself 
was telling a story ; who is put out of humour by the badness of the 
weather when in the country, by the badness of the roads when upon a 
journey, and by the want of company and dulness of all public diver- 
sions when in town ; such a person^ I say, though he should have some 
reason, will seldom meet with much sympathy. Joy is a pleasant 
emotion, and we gladly abandon ourselves to it upon the slightest oc- 
casion. We readily, therefore, sympathize with it in others, whenever 
we are not prejudiced by envy. But grief is painful, and the mind, 
even when it is our own misfortune, naturally resists and recoils from 
it We would endeavour either not to conceive it at all, or to shake it 
off as soon as we have conceived it Our aversion to grief will not, 
indeed, always hinder us from conceiving it in our own case upon very 
trifling occasions, but it constantly prevents us from sympathizing with 
it in others when excited by the like frivolous causes : for our sympa- 
thetic passions are always less irresistible than our original ones. 
There is, besides, a malice in mankind, which not only prevents all 
sympathy with little uneasinesses, but renders them in some measure 
diverting. Hence the delight which we all take in raillery, and in the 
small vexation which we observe in our companion, when he is pushed, 
and urged, and teased upon all sides. Men of the most ordinary good- 
breeding dissemble the pain which any little incident may give them ; 
and those who are more thoroughly formed to society, turn of their own 
accord, all such incidents into raillery, as they know their companions 
will do for them. The habit which a man, who lives in the world, has 
acquired of considering how every thing that concerns himself will 
appear to others, makes those frivolous calamities turn up in the same 
ridiculous light to him, in which he knows they will certainly be con- 
sidered by them. 

Our sympathy, on the contrary, with deep distress, is very strong 
and very sincere. It is unnecessary to give an instance. We weep 
even at the feigned representation of a tragedy. If you labour, there- 
fore, under any signal calamity, if by some extraordinary misfortune 
you are fallen into poverty, into diseases, into disgrace and disappoint- 
ment; even though your own fault may have been, in part, the occa- 
sion, yet you may generally depend upon the sincerest sympathy of all 
your friends, and, as far as interest and honour will permit, upon their 
kindest assistance too. But if your misfortune is not of this dreadful 
kind, if you have only been a little baulked in your ambition, if you 
have only been jilted by your mistress, or are only hen-pecked by your 
wife, lay your account with the raillery of all your acquaintance. 


Sec III.— Op the Effects of Prosperity and Adversity upon 
THE Judgment of Mankind with Regard to the Propriety 
of Action ; and why it is more Easy to obtain their 
Approbation in the one State than in the other. 

Chap. I. — Thai though our Sympathy with Sorrow is generally a more 
lively Sensation than our Sympathy with Joy^ it commonly falls 
much more Short of the Violence of what is naturally felt by the 
, Person principally concerned. 

Our sympathy with sorrow, though not more real, has been more taken 
notice of than our S3rmpathy with joy. The word sympathy, in its most 
proper and primitive signification, denotes our fellow-feeling with the 
sufferings, not that with the enjoyments, of others. A late ingenious 
and subtile philosopher thought it necessary to prove, by arguments, 
that we had a real sympathy with joy, and that congratulation was a 
principle of human nature. Nobody, I believe, ever thought it neces- 
sary to prove that compassion was such. 

Firsl of all, our sympathy with sorrow is, in some sense, more 
universal than that with joy. Though sorrow is excessive, we may 
still have some fellow-feeling with it What we feel does not, indeed, 
in this case, amount to that complete sympathy, to that perfect har- 
mony and correspondence of sentiments, which constitutes approbation. 
We do not weep, and exclaim, and lament, with the sufferer. . We are 
sensible, on the contrary, of his weakness and of the extravagance of 
his passion, and yet often feel a very sensible concern upon his accoimL 
But if we do not entirely enter into, and go along with, the joy of 
another, we have no sort of regard or fellow feeling for it The man 
who skips and dances about with that intemperate and senseless joy 
which we cannot accompany him in, is the object of our contempt and 

Pain besides, whether of mind or body, is a more pungent sensation 
than pleasure, and our sympathy with pain, though it falls greatly short 
of what is naturally felt by the sufferer, is generally a more lively and. 
distinct perception than our sympathy with pleasure, though this last 
often approaches more nearly, as I shall show immediately, to the 
natural vivacity of the originsd passion. 

Over and above all this, we often struggle to keep down our sympathy 
with the sorrow of others. Whenever we are not under the observa- 
tion of the sufferer, we endeavour, for our own sake, to suppress it as 
much as we can, and we are not always successful The opposition 
which we make to it, and the reluctance with which we yield to it, 
necessarily oblige us to take more particular notice of it But we 
never have occasion to make this opposition to our sympathy with joy. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 43 

If there is any envy in the case, we never feel the least propensity 
towards it ; and if there is none, we give way to it without any reluct- 
ance. On the contrary, as we are always ashamed of our own envy, 
we often pretend, and sometimes really wish to sympathize with the joy 
of others, when by that disagreeable sentiment we are disqualified from 
doing so. We are glad, we say, on account of our neighbour's good 
fortune, when in our hearts, perhaps, we are really sorry. We often 
feel a sympathy with sorrow when we would wish to be rid of it ; and ^ 
we often miss that with joy when we would be glad to have it. The 
obvious observation, therefore, which it naturally falls in our way to j 
make, is, that our propensity to sjrmpathize with sorrow must be very 
strong, and our inclination to sympathize with joy very weak. 

Notwithstanding this prejudice, however, I will venture to affirm, 
that, when there is no envy in the case, our propensity to sympathize 
with joy is much stronger than our propensity to S3rmpathize with 
sorrow; and that our fellow-feeling for the agreeable emotion ap- j 
proaches much more nearly to the vivacity of what is naturally felt by 
the persons principally concerned, than that which we conceive for the 
painful one. 

We have some indulgence for that excessive grief which we cannot 
entirely go along with. We know what a prodigious effort is requisite 
before the sufferer can bring down his emotions to complete harmony 
and concord with those of the spectator. Though he feik, therefore, 
we easily pardon him. But we have no such indulgence for the intem- 
perance of joy ; because we are not conscious that any such vast effort 
is requisite to bring it down to what we can entirely enter into. The 
man who, under the greatest calamities, can command his sorrow, 
seems worthy of the highest admiration ; but he who, in the fulness of 
prosperity, can in the ssune manner master his joy, seems hardly to 
deserve any praise. We are sensible that there is a much wider interval 
in the one case than in the other, between what is naturally felt by the 
person principally concerned, and what the spectator can entirely go 
along with. 

What can be added to the happiness of the man who is in health, 
who is out of debt, and has a dear conscience ? To one in this situa- 
tion, all accessions of fortune may properly be said to be superfluous ; 
and if he is much elevated on account of them, it must be the effect of / 
the most frivolous levity. This situation, however, may very well be 
called the natural and ordinary state of mankind. Notwithstanding 
the present misery and depravity of the world, so justly lamented, this 
really is the state of the greater part of men. The greater part of 
men, therefore, cannot find any great difficulty in elevating themselves 
to aU the joy which any accession to this situation can well excite in 
their companion. 
But though little can be added to this state, much may be taken from 



it Though between this condition and the highest pitch of human 
prosperity, the interval is but a trifle ; between it and the lowest depth 
of misery the distance is immense and prodigious. Adversity, on this 
account, necessarily depresses the mind of the sufferer much more 
below its natural state, than prosperity can elevate him above it. The 
spectator, therefore, must find it much more difficult to sympathize 
entirely, and keep perfect time, with his sorrow, than thoroughly to 
enter into his joy, and must depart much further from his own natural 
and ordinary temper of mind in the one case than in the other. It is 
op. this account, that though our sympathy with sorrow is often a more 
pungent sensation than our sympathy with joy, it always falls much 
more short of the violence of what is naturally felt by the person 
principally concerned. 

It is agreeable to sympathize with joy ; and wherever envy does not 
oppose it, our heart abandons itself with satisfaction to the highest 
transports of that delightful sentiment. But it is painful to go along 
with grief, and we always enter into it with reluctance.* When we 
attend to the representation of a tragedy, we struggle against that 
sympathetic sorrow which the entertainment inspires as long as we can, 
and we give way to it at last only when we can no longer avoid it ; we 
even then endeavour to cover our concern from the company. If we 
shed any tears, we carefully conceal them, and are afraid, lest the 
spectators, not entering into this excessive tenderness, should regard it 
as effeminacy and weakness. The wretch whose misfortunes call upon 
our compassion feels with what reluctance we are likely to enter into 
his sorrow, and therefore proposes his grief to us with fear and hesita- 
tion ; he even smothers the half of it, and is ashamed, upon account of 
this hard-heartedness of mankind, to give vent to the fulness of his 
affliction. It is otherwise.with the man who riots in joy and success. 
Wherever envy does not interest us against him, he expects our com- 
pletest sympathy. He does not fear, therefore, to announce himself 
with shouts of exultation, in full confidence that we are heartily dis- 
posed to go along with him. 

Why should we be more ashamed to weep than to laugh before com- 
pany ? We may often have as real occasion to do the one as to do the 
other; but we always feel that the spectators are more likely to go 
along with us in the agreeable, than in the painful emotion. It is 

* It has been objected to me that as I found the sentiment of approbation, which is- always 
agreeable, upon sympathy, it is inconsistent with my system to admit any disagreeable sym- 
pathy. I answer, that in the sentiment of approbation there are two things to be taken notice 
of ; first, the sympathetic passion of the spectator ; and secondly, the emotion which arises 
f^om his observing the perfect coincidence between this sympathetic passion in himself, and 
the original passion in the person principally concerned. This last emotion, in which the 
sentiment of approbation prope{^y consists, is always agreeable and delightful. The other 
may either be agreeable or disagreeable, according to the nature of the original passion, whose 
features it must always, in some measure, retain. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 45 

always miserable to complain, even when we are oppressed by the most 
dreadful calamities. But the triumph of victory is not always ungrace- 
ful Prudence, indeed, would often advise us to bear our prosperity 
with more moderation ; because prudence would teach us to avoid that 
envy which this very triumph is, more than any thing, apt to excite. 

How hearty are the acclamations of the mob, who never bear any envy 
to their superiors, at a triumph or a public entry ? And how sedate and 
moderate is commonly their grief at an execution ? Our sorrow at a 
funeral generally amounts to no more than an affected gravity; but our 
mirth at a christening or a marriage, is always from the heart, and with- 
out any affectation. Upon these, and all such joyous occasions, our 
satisfaction, though not so durable, is often as lively as that of the 
persons principally concerned. Whenever we cordially congratulate 
our friends, which, however, to the disgrace of human nature, we do 
but seldom, their joy literally becomes our joy : we are, for the moment, 
as happy as they are : our heart swells and overflows with real plea- 
sure : joy and complacency sparkle from our eyes, and animate every 
feature of our countenance, and every gesture of our body. 

But on the contrary, when we condole with our friends in their afflic- 
tions, how httle do we feel, in comparison of what they feel ? We sit 
down by them, we look at them, and while they relate to us the circum- 
stances of their misfortune, we listen to them with g^vity and atten- 
tion. But while their narration is every moment interrupted by those 
natural bursts of passion which often seem almost to choke them in the 
midst of it ; how far are the languid emotions of our hearts from keep- 
ing time to the transports of theirs ? We may be sensible, at the same 
time, that their passion is natural, and no greater than what we our- 
selves might feel upon the like occasion. We may even inwardly 
reproach ourselves with our own want of sensibility, and perhaps, on 
that account, work ourselves up into an artificial sympathy, which how- 
ever, when it is raised, is always the slightest ajid most transitory 
imaginable ; and generally, as soon as we have left the room, vanishes, 
and is gone for ever. Nature, it seems, when she loaded us with our 
own sorrows, thought they were enough, and therefore did not com- 
mand us to take any further share in those of others, than what was 
necessary to prompt us to relieve them. 

It is on account of this dull sensibility to the afflictions of others, 
that magnanimity amidst great distress appears always so divinely 
graceful His behaviour is genteel and agreeable who can maintain 
his cheerfulness amidst a number of frivolous disasters. But he 
appears to be more than mortal who can support in the same manner 
the most dreadful calamities. We feel what an immense effort is 
requisite to silence those violent emotions which naturally agitate and 
distract those in his situation. We are amazed to find that he can 
command himself so entirely. His firmness at the same time, perfectly 


coincides with our insensibility. He makes no demand upon us for 
that more exquisite degree of sensibility which we find, and which we 
are mortified to find, that we do not possess. There is the most perfect 
correspondence between his sentiments and ours, and on that account 
the most perfect propriety in his behaviour. It is a propriety too, 
which, from our experience of the usual weakness of human nature, we 
could not reasonably have expected he should be able to maintain. 
We wonder with surprise and astonishment at that strength of mind 
which is capable of so noble and generous an effort. The sentiment of 
complete sympathy and approbation, mixed and animated with wonder 
and surprise, constitutes what is properly called admiration, as has 
already been more than once take notice of. Cato, surrounded on all 
sides by his enemies, unable to resist them, disdaining to submit to 
them, and reduced, by the proud maxims of that age, to the necessity 
of destroying himself ; yet neyer shrinking from his misfortunes, never 
supplicating with the lamentable voice of wretchedness, those miser- 
able sympathetic tears which we are always so unwilling to give ; but 
on the contrary, arming himself with manly fortitude, and the moment 
before he executes his fatal resolution, giving, with his usual tranquillity, 
all necessary orders for the safety of his friends ; appears to Seneca, 
that great preacher of insensibility, a spectacle which even the gods 
themselves might behold with pleasure and admiration. 

Whenever we meet, in common life, with any examples of such 
heroic magnanimity, we are always extremely affected. We are more 
apt to weep and shed tears for such as, in this manner, seem to feel 
nothing for themselves, than for those who give way to all the weakness 
of sorrow and in this particular case, the sympathetic grief of the 
spectator appears to go beyond the original passion in the person 
principally concerned. The friends of Socrates all wept when he 
drank the last potion, while he himself caressed the gayest and most 
cheerful tranquillity. Upon all such occasions the spectator makes no 
effort, and has no occasion to make any, in order to conquer his sympa- 
thetic sorrow. He is under no fear that it will transport him to any 
thing that is extravagant and improper ; he is rather pleased with the 
sensibiUty of his own heart, and gives way to it with complacence and 
self-approbation. He gladly indulges, therefore, the most melancholy 
views which can naturally occur to him, concerning the calamity of his 
friend, for whom, perhaps^ he never felt so exquisitely before, the tender 
and tearful passion of love. But it is quite otherwise with the person 
principally concerned. He is obliged, as much as possible, to turn 
away his eyes from i^atever is either naturally terrible or disa^eeable 
in his situation. Too serious an attention to those circumstances, he 
fears, might make so violent an impression upon him, that he could no 
longer keep within the bounds of moderation, or render himself the 
object of the complete sympathy and approbation of the spectators. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 47 

He fixes his thoughts, therefore, upon those only which are agreeable, 
the applause and admiration which he is about to deserve by the heroic 
m^nanimity of his behaviour. To fed tiiat he is capable of so 
noble and generous an effort, to feel that in this dreadful situation he 
can still act as he would desire to act, animates and transports him 
with joy, and enables him to support diat triumphant gaiety which 
seems to exult in the victory he thus gains over his misfortunes. 

On the contrary, he always appears, in some measure, mean and 
despicable, who is sunk in sorrow and dejection upon account of any 
calamity of his own. We cannot bring ourselves to feel for him what 
he feels for himself, and what, perhaps, we should feel for ourselves if 
in his situation : we, therefore, despise him ; unjustly perhaps, if any 
sentiment could be regarded as unjust, to which we are by nature irre- 
sistibly determined. The weakness of sorrow never appears in any 
respect agreeable, except when it arises from what we feel for ourselves. 
A son, upon the death of an indulgent and respectable father, may 
give way to it without much blame. His sorrow is chiefly founded 
upon a sort of sympathy with his departed parent ; and we readily 
enter into his humane emotion. But if he should indulge the same 
weakness upon account of any misfortune which affected himself only, 
he would no longer meet with any such indulgence. If he should be 
reduced to beggary and ruin, if he should be exposed to the most 
dreadful dangers, if he should even be led out to a public execution, 
and there shed one single tear upon the scaffold, he would disgrace 
himself for ever in the opinion of all the gallant and generous part of 
mankind. Their compassion for him, however, would be very strong, 
and very sincere ; but as it would still fall short of this excessive weak- 
ness, they would have no pardon for the man who could thus expose 
himself in the eyes of the world. His behaviour would affect them 
with shame rather than with sorrow ; and the dishonour which he had 
thus brought upon himself would appear to them the most lamentable 
circumstance in his misfortune. How did it disgrace the memory of 
the intrepid Duke of Biron, who had so often braved death in the 
field, that he wept upon the scafifold, when he beheld the state to which 
he was fallen, and remembered the favour and the glory from which 
his own rashness had so unfortunately thrown him ? 

Chap. II. — Of the Origin of Ambition^ and of the Distinction oj 


It is because mankind are disposed to sympathize more entirely with 
our joy than with our sorrow, that we make parade of our riches, *and 
conceal our poverty. Nothing is so mortifying as to be obliged to 
expose our distress to the view of the public, and to feel, that though 


our situation is open to the eyes of all mankind, no mortal conceives 
for us the half of what we suffer. Nay, it is chiefly from this regard 
to the sentiments of mankind, that we pursue riches and avoid poverty* 
For to what purpose is all the toil and bustle of this world ? what is 
the end of avarice and ambition, of the pursuit of wealth, of power, 
and pre-eminence ? Is it to supply the necessities of nature ? The 
wages of the meanest labourer can supply them. We see that they 
can afford him food and clothing, the comfort of a house and of a 
family. If we examine his oeconomy with rigour, we should find that 
he spends a great part of them upon conveniences, which may be 
regarded as superfluities, and that, upon extraordinary occasions, he 
can give something even to vanity and distinction. What then is the 
cause of our aversion to his situation, and why should those who have 
been educated in the higher ranks of life, regard it as worse than death, 
to be reduced to live, even without labour, upon the same simple fare 
with him, to dwell under the same lowly roof, and to be clothed in the 
same humble attire ? Do they imagine that their stomach is better 
or their sleep sounder in a palace than in a cottage ? The contrary 
has been so often observed, and, indeed, is so very obvious, though it 
had never been observed, that there is nobody ignorant of it. From 
whence, then arises that emulation which runs through all the different 
ranks of men, and what are the advantages which we propose by 

jthe great purpose of human life which we call bettering our condition? 

/To be observed, to be attended to, to be taken notice of with sym- 
pathy, complacency, and approbation, are all the advantages which we 
can propose to derive from it It is the vanity, not the ease or the 
pleasure, which interests us. But vanity is always founded upon the 
belief of our being the object of attention and approbation. The rich 
man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw 
upon him the attention of the world,' and that mankind are disposed to 
go along with him in all those agreeable emotions with which the 
advantages of his situation so readily inspire him. At the thought of 
this, his heart seems to swell and dilate itself within him, and he is 
fonder of his wealth upon this account, than for all the other advan- 
tages it procures him. The poor man, on the contrary, is ashamed of 
his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the sight of man- 
kind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce 
any fellow-feeling with the misery and distress which he suffers. He 
is mortified upon both accounts ; for though to be overlooked, and to 
be disapproved of, are things entirely different, yet as obscurity covers 
us from the daylight of honour and approbation, to feel that we are 
taken no notice of, necessarily damps the most agreeable hope, and 
disappoints the most ardent desire, of human nature. The poor man 
goes out and comes in unheeded, and when in the midst of a crowd is 
in the same obscurity as if shut up in his own hovel Those humble 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 49 

cares and painful attentions which occupy those in his situation, afford 
no amusement to the dissipated and the gay. They turn away their 
their eyes from him, if the extremity of his distress forces them to look 
at him, it is only to spurn so disagreeable an object from among them. 
The fortunate * and the proud wonder at the insolence of human 
wretchedness, that it should dare to present itself before them, and 
with the loathsome aspect of its misery presume to disturb the serenity 
of their happiness. The man of rank and distinction, on the contrary, 
is observed by all the world. Every body is eager to look at him, and 
to conceive, at least by sympathy, that joy and exultation with which 
his circumstances naturally inspire him. His actions are the objects 
of the public care. Scarce a word, scarce a gesture, can fall from him 
that is altogether neglected. In a great assembly he is the person 
upon whom all direct their eyes ; it is upon him that their passioms 
seem to wait with expectation, in order to receive that movement and 
direction which he shall impress upon them ; and if his behaviour is 
not altogether absurd, he has, every moment, an opportunity of 
interesting mankind, and of rendering himself the object of the observ- 
ation and fellow feeling of every body about him. It is this, which, 
notwithstanding the restraint it imposes, notwithstanding the loss of 
liberty with which it is attended, renders greatness the object of envy, 
and compensates, in the opinion of mankind, all that toil, all that 
anxiety, all those mortifications which must be undergone in the pur- 
suit of it ; and what is of yet more consequence, all that leisure, all 
that ease, all that careless security, which are forfeited for ever by the 

When we consider the condition of the great, in those delusive 
colours in which the imagination is apt to paint it, it seems to be almost 
the abstract idea of a perfect and happy state. It is the very state 
which, in all our waking dreams and idle reveries, we had sketched 
out to ourselves as the final object of our desires. We feel, therefore, a 
peculiar sympathy with the satisfaction of those who are in it. We 
favour all their inclinations, and forward all their wishes. What pity, we 
think, that any thing should spoil and corrupt so agreeable a situation. 
We could even wish them immortal ; and it seems hard to us, that 
death should at last put an end to such perfect enjoyment It is cruel, 
we think, in Nature to compel them from their exalted stations to that 
humble, but hospitable home, which she has provided for all her chil- 
dren. Great king, live for ever ! is the compliment which, after the 
manner of eastern adulation, we should readily make them, if experi- 
ence did not teach us its absurdity. Every calamity that befals them, 
every injury thit is done them, excites in the breast of the spectator 
ten times more compassion and resentment than he would have felt, 
had the same things happened to other men. It is the misfortune of 
hxigs only which afford tiiie proper subjects for tragedy. They resemble 



in this respect, the misfortunes of lovers. Those two situations ar« the 
chief which interest us upon the theatre ; because, in spite of all that 
reason and experience can tell us to the contrary, the prejudices of the 
imagination attach to these two states a happiness superior to any 
other. To disturb, or to put an end to such perfect enjoyment, seems 
to be the most atrocious of all injuries. The traitor who conspires 
against the life of his monarch, is thought a greater monster than any 
other murderer. All the innocent blood that was shed in the civil wars 
provoked less indignation than the death of Charles I. A stranger to 
human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of 
their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the 
misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to 
imagine, that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of 
death more terrible to parsons of higho: rank, than they are to those 
of meaner stations. 

Upon this disposition of mankind, to go along with all the passions 
of the rich and the powerful, is founded the distinction of ranks, and 
the order of society. Our obsequiousness to our superiors more 
frequently arises from our admiration ior the advantages of their 
situation, than from any private expectations of benefit from their 
goodwill. Their benefits can extend but to a few ; but their fortunes 
interest almost every body. We are eager to assist them in completing 
a 'System of happiness that approaches so near to perfection ; and we 
desire to serve them for their own sake, without any recompense but 
the vanity or the honour of obliging them. Neither is our deference 
to the inclinations founded chiefly, or altogether, upon a regard to 
the utility of such submission, and to the order of society, which is 
best supported by it Even when the order of society seems to require 
that we should oppose them, we can hardly bring ourselves to do it. 
That kings are servants of the people, to be obeyed, resisted, deposed, 
or punished, as the public conveniency may require, is the doctrine of 
reason and philosophy ; but it is not the doctrine of nature. Nature 
would teach us to submit to them for their own sake, to tremble and 
bow down before their exalted station, to regard their smile as a reward 
sufficient to compensate any services, and to dread their displeasure, 
though no other evil were to follow from it, as the severest of all morti- 
fications. To treat them in any respect as men, to reason and dispute 
with them upon ordinary occasions, requires such resolution, that there 
are few men whose magnanimity can support them in it, unless they 
are likewise assisted by similarity and acquaintance. The strongest 
motives, the most furious passions, fear, hatred, and resentment, are 
scarce sufficient to balance this natural disposition to respect them : 
and their conduct must, either justly or unjustly, have excited the 
highest degree of those passions, before the bulk of the people can 
be brought to oppose ftiem with violence, or to desire to see them 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 51 

either punished or deposed. Even when the people have been 
brought this length, they are apt to relent every moment, and easily 
relapse into their habitual state of defer^ice to those whoni they 
have been accustomed to look upon as their natural superiors. They 
cannot stand the mortification of their monarch. Compassion soon 
takes the place of resentment, they forget all past provocations, their 
old principles of loyalty revive, and they run to re-establish the ruined 
authority of their old masters, with the same violence with which they 
had opposed it The death of Charles I. brought about the restoration 
of the royal family. Compassion for James II., when he was seized by 
the populace in making his escape on ship-boazd, had almost prevented 
the Revolution, and made it go on more heavily than before. 

Do the great seem insensible of the easy price at which they may 
acquire the public admiration; or do they seem to imagine that to 
them, as to other men, it must be the purchase either of sweat or ot 
blood ? By what important accomplishments is the young nobleman 
instructed to support the dignity of his rank, and to render himself 
worthy of that superiority over his fellow citizens, to which the virtue 
of his ancestors had raised them : Is it by knowledge, by industry, by 
patience, by self-denial, or by virtue of any kind ? As all his words, as 
all his motions are attended to, he leams an habitual regard to every 
circumstance of ordinary behaviour, and studies to perform all those 
small duties with the most exact propriety. As he is conscious how 
much he is observed, and how much mankind are disposed to favour 
all his inclinations, he acts, upon the most indifferent occasions, with 
that freedom and elevation which the thought of this naturally inspires. 
His air, his manner, his deportment, all mark that elegant and graceful 
sense of his own superiority, which those who are bom to inferior 
stations can hardly ever arrive at These are the arts by which he 
proposes to make mankind more easily submit to his authority, and to 
govern their inclinations according to his own pleasure ; and in this he 
is seldom disappointed. These arts, supported by rank and pre-emi- 
nence, are, upon ordinary occasions, sufficient to govern the world. 
Lewis XIV, during the greater part of his reign, was regarded, not 
only in France, but over all Europe, as the most perfect model of a 
great prince. But what were the talents and virtues by which he 
acquired this great reputation? Was it by the scrupulous and inflexible 
justice of all his undertakings, by the immense dangers and difficulties 
with which they were attended, or by the unwearied and unrelenting 
application with which he pursued them? Was it by his extensive 
knowledge, by his exquisite judgment, or by his heroic valour? It was 
by none of these qualities. But he was, first of all, the most powerful 
prince in Europe, and consequently held the highest rank among kings ; 
and then says his historian, * he surpassed all his courtiers in the grace- 
' fulness of his shape, and the majestic beauty of his features. The 


' sound of his voice, noble and affecting, gained those hearts which his 

* presence intimidated. He had a step and a deportment which could 

* suit only him and his rank, and which would have been ridiculous in 
' any other person. The embarrassment which he occasioned to those 

* who spoke to him, flattered that secret satisfaction with which he felt 

* his own superiority. The old officer, who was confounded and fal- 
' tered in asking him a favour, and not being able to conclude his dis- 

* course, said to him : " Sir, your majesty, I hope, will believe that I do 

* not tremble thus before your enemies :" had no difficulty to obtain what 
*he demanded.' These frivolous accomplishments, supported by his 
rank, and, no doubt too, by a degree of other talents and virtues, which 
seems, however, not to have been much above mediocrity, established 
this prince in the esteem of his own age, and have drawn, even from 
posterity, a good deal of respect for his memory. Compared with these, 
in his own times, and in his own presence, no other virtue, it seems, 
appeared to have any merit. Knowledge, industry, valour, and benefi- 
cence trembled, were abashed, and lost all dignity before them. 

But it is not by accomplishments of this kind, that the man of inferior 
rank must hope to distinguish himself. Politeness is so much the virtue 
of the great, that it will do little honour to any body but themselves. 
The coxcomb, who imitates their manner, and affects to be eminent by 
the superior propriety of his ordinary behaviour, is rewarded with a 
double share of contempt for his folly and presumption. Why should 
the man, whom nobody thinks it worth while to look at, be very anxious 
about the manner in which he holds up his head, or disposes of his 
arms while he walks through a room? He is occupied surely with a 
very superfluous attention, and with an attention too that marks a sense 
of his own importance, which no other mortal can go along with. The 
most perfect modesty and plainness, joined to as much negligence as is 
consistent with the respect due to the company, ought to be the chief 
characteristics of the behaviour of a private man. If ever he hopes to 
distinguish himself, it must be by more important virtues. He must 
acquire dependants to balance the dependants of the great, and he has 
no other fund to pay them from, but the labour of his body and the 
activity of his mind. He must cultivate these therefore: he must 
acquire superior knowledge in his profession and superior industry in 
the exercise of it. He must be patient in labour, resolute in danger, 
and firm in distress. These talents he must bring into public view, by 
the difficulty, importance, and at the same time, good judgment of his 
undertakings, and by the severe and unrelenting application, with which 
he pursues them. Probity and prudence, generosity and frankness, 
must characterize his behaviour upon all ordinary occasions ; and he 
must, at the same time, be forward to engage in all those situations, in 
which it requires the greatest talents and virtues to act with propriety, 
' but in which the greatest applause is to be acquired by those who can 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. S3 

acquit themselves with honour. With what impatience does the man 
of spirit and ambition, who is depressed by his situation, look round for 
some great opportunity to distinguish himself? No circumstances, 
which can afford this, appear to him undesirable. He even looks for- 
ward with satisfaction to the prospect of foreign war or civil dissension ; 
and, with secret transport and dehght, sees through all the confusion 
and bloodshed which attend them, the probability of those wished-for 
occasions presenting themselves, in which he may draw upon himself 
the attention and admiration of mankind. The man of rank and dis- 
tinction, on the contrary, whose whole glory consists in the propriety 
of his ordinary behaviour, who is contented with the himible renowp 
which this can afford him, and has no talents to acquire any other, is 
unwilling to embarrass himself with what can be attended either with 
difficulty or distress. To figure at a ball is his great triimiph, and to 
succeed in an intrigue of gallantry, his highest exploit He has an 
aversion to all public confusions, not from the love of mankind, for the 
great never look upon their inferiors as their fellow-creatures ; nor yet 
from want of courage, for in that he is seldom defective ; but from a 
consciousness that he possesses none of the virtues which are required 
in such situations, and that the pubhc attention will certainly be drawn 
away from him by others. He may be willing to expose himself to 
some little danger, and to make a campaign when it happens to be the 
fashion. But he shudders with horror at the thought of any situation 
which demands the continual and long exertion of patience, industry, 
fortitude, and application of thought These virtues are hardly ever to 
be met with in men who are bom to those high stations. In all govern- 
ments, accordingly, even in monarchies; the highest offices are generally 
possessed, and the whole detail of the administration conducted, by 
men who were educated in the middle and inferior ranks of life, 
who have been carried forward by their own industry and abilities, 
though loaded with the jealousy, and opposed by the resentment, 
of all those who were bom their superiors, and to whom the great, 
after having regarded them first with contempt, and afterwards with 
envy, are at last contented to truckle with the same abject mean- 
ness with which they desire that the rest of mankind should behave to 

It is the loss of this easy empire over the affections of mankind which 
renders the fall from greatness so insupportable. When the family of 
the king of Macedon was led in triumph by Paulus iEmilius, their mis- 
fortunes, it is said, made them divide with their conqueror the attention 
of the Roman people. The sight of the royal children, whose tender 
age rendered them insensible of their situation, struck the spectators, 
amidst the public rejoicings and prosperity, with the tenderest sorrow 
and compassion. The king appeared next in the procession; and 
seemed like one confounded and astonished, and bereft of all senti- 


ment, by the greatness of his calamities. His friends and ministers 
followed after him. As they moved along, they often cast their eyes 
upon their fallen sovereign, and always burst into tears at the sight ; 
their whole behaviour demonstrating that they thought not of their own 
misfortunes, but were occupied entirely by the superior greatness of his. 
The generous Romans, on the contrary, beheld him with disd^n and 
indignation, and regarded as unworthy of all compassion the man who 
could be so mean-spirited as to bear to live under such calamities. Yet 
what did those calamities amount to? According to the greater part of 
historians, he was to spend the remainder of his days, under the pro- 
tection of a powerful and humane people, in a state which in itself 
should seem worthy of envy, a state of plenty, ease, leisure, and 
security, from which it was impossible for him even by his own folly to 
fall But he was no longer to be surrounded by that admiring mob of 
fools, flatterers, and dependants, who had formerly been accustomed to 
attend upon all his motions. He was no longer to be gazed upon by 
multitudes, nor to have it in his power to render himself the object of 
their respect, their gratitude, their love, their admiration. The passions 
of nations were no longer to mould themselves upon his inclinations. 
This was that insupportable calamity which bereaved the king of all 
sentiment ; which made his friends forget their own misfortunes ; and 
which the Roman magnanimity could scarce conceive how any man 
could be so mean-spirited as to bear to survive. 

'Love,' says my Lord Rochefaucault, Ms commonly succeeded by 
'ambition; but ambition is hardly ever succeeded by love.' That 
passion, when once it has got entire possession of the breast, will admit 
neither a rival nor a successor. To those who have been accustomed 
to the possession, or even to the hope of public admiration, all other 
pleasures sicken and decay. Of all the discarded statesmen who for 
their own ease have studied to get the better of ambition, and to des- 
pise those honours which they could no longer arrive at, how few have 
been able to succeed ? The greater part have spent their time in the 
most listless and insipid indolence, chagrined at the thoughts of their 
own insignificancy, incapable of being interested in the occupations of 
private life, without enjoyment except when they talked of their former 
greatness, and without satisfaction except when they were employed in 
some vain project to recover it. Are you in earnest resolved never to 
barter your liberty for the lordly servitude of a court, but to live free, 
fearless, and independent ? There seems to be one way to continue in 
that virtuous resolution ; and perhaps but one. Never enter the place 
from whence so few have been able to return ; never come within the 
circle of ambition ; nor ever bring yourself into comparison with those 
masters of the earth who have already engrossed the attention of half 
mankind before you. 

Of such mighty importance does it appear to be, in the imaginations 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 55 

of men, to stand in that situation which sets them most in the view of 
general sympathy and attention. And thus, place, that great object 
which divides the wives of aldermen, is the end of half the labours of 
human life; and is the cause of all the tumult and bustle, all the rapine 
and injustice, which avarice and ambition have introduced into this 
world. People of sense, it is said, indeed despise place ; that is, they 
despise sitting at the head of the table, and are indifferent who it is 
that is pointed out to the company by that frivolous circumstance, which 
the smallest advantange is capable of overbalancing. But rank, dis- 
tinction, pre-eminence, no man despises, unless he is either raised very 
much above, or sunk very much below, tiie ordinary standard of human v^ 
nature; unless he is either so confirmed in wisdom and real philosophy, 
as to be satisfied that, while the propriety of his conduct renders him 
the just object of approbation, it is of little consequence though he be 
neither attended to, nor approved of ; or so habituated to the idea of 
his own meanness, so sunk in slothful and sottish indifference, as 
entirely to have forgot the desire and almost the very wish for supe* 
riority over his fellows. 

As to become the natural object of the joyous cong^tulations and 
sympathetic attentions of mankind is, in this manner, the circumstance 
which gives to prosperity all its dazzling splendour ; so nothing darkens 
so much the gloom of adversity as to feel that our misfortunes are the 
objects, not of the fellow-feeling, but of the contempt and aversion of 
our brethren. It is upon this account that the most dreadful calamities 
are not always those which it is most difficult to support It is often 
more mortifying to appear in public under small disasters, than under 
great misfortunes. The first excite no sympathy ; but the second, 
though they may excite none that approaches to the anguish of the 
sufferer, call forth, however, a very lively compassion. The sentiments 
of the spectators are, in this last case, less wide of those of the suf* 
ferer, and their imperfect fellow-feeling lends him some assistance in 
supporting his misery. Before a gay assembly, a gentleman would be 
more mortified to appear covered with filth and rags than with blood 
and wounds. This last situation would interest their pity ; the other 
would provoke their laughter. The judge who orders a criminal to be 
set in the pillory, dishonours him more than if he had condemned him 
to the scaffold. The great prince, who, some years ago, caned a gene- 
ral officer at the head of his army, disgraced him irrecoverably. The 
pimishment would have been much less had he shot him through his 
body. By the laws of honour, to strike with a cane dishonours, to 
strike with a sword does not, for an obvious reason. Those slighter 
punishments, when inflicted on a gentleman, to whom dishonour is the 
greatest of all evils, come to be regarded among a humane and gene- 
rous people, as the most dreadful of any. With regard to persons of 
that rank, therefore, they are universally laid aside, and the law, while 


it takes their life upon many occasions, respects their honour upon 
almost all. To scourge a person of quality, or to set him in the pillory, 
upon account of any crime whatever, is a brutality of which no Euro- 
pean government, except that of Russia, is capable. 

A brave man is not rendered contemptible by being brought to the 
scaffold ; he is, by being set in the pillory. His behaviour in the one 
situation may gain him universal esteem and admiration. No be- 
haviour in the other can render him agreeable. The sympathy of the 
spectators supports 'him in the one case, and saves him from that 
shame, that consciousness that his misery is felt by himself only, 
which is of all sentiments the most unsupportable. There is no sym- 
pathy in the other ; or, if there is any, it is not with his pain, which is 
a trifle, but with his consciousness of the want of sympathy with which 
this pain is attended. It is with his shame, not with his sorrow. Those 
who pity him, blush and hang down their heads for him. He droops 
in the same manner, and feels himself irrecoverably degraded by the 
punishment, though not by the crime. The man, on the contrary, who 
dies with resolution, as he is naturally regarded with the erect aspect of 
esteem and approbation, so he wears himself the same undaunted 
countenance ; and, if the crime does not deprive him of the respect of 
others, the'punishment never will. He has no suspicion that his situa- 
tion is the object of contempt or derision to any body, and he can, with 
propriety, assume the air, not only of perfect serenity, but of trimnph 
and exultation. 

* Great dangers,' says the Cardinal de Retz, * have their channs, 

* because there is some glory to be got, even when we miscarry. But 

* moderate dangers have nothing but what is horrible, because the loss 

* of reputation always attends the want of success.' His maxim has 
the same foundation with what we have been just now observing with 
regard to punishments. 

Human virtue is superior to pain, to poverty, to danger, and to 
death; nor does it even require its utmost efforts to despise them. 
But to have its misery exposed to insult and derision, to be led in 
triumph, to be set up for the hand of scorn to point at, is a situation in 
which its constancy is much more apt to fail. Compared with the con- 
tempt of mankind, all other external evils are easily supported. 

Chap. HI. — Of the Corruption of our Moral Sentiments^ which is occa- 
sioned by this Disposition to admire the Rich and the Great ^ and to 
despise or neglect Persons of poor and mean Condition, 

This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the 
powerful, and to despise or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and 
mean condition, though necessary both to estabhsh and to maintain the 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. S7 

distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the 
great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral senti- 
ments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect 
and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue ; and that the 
contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often 
most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the com- 
plaint of monJists in all ages. 

We desire both to be respectable and to be respected. We dread 
both to be contemptible and to be contemned. But, upon coming into 
the world, we soon find that wisdom and virtue are by no means the 
sole objects of respect ; nor vice and folly, of contempt. We frequently 
see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards 
the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We 
see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised 
than the poverty and weakness of the innocent To deserve, to acquire, 
and to enjoy the respect and admiration of mankind, are the great 
objects of ambition and emulation. Two different roads are presented 
to us, equally leading to the attainment of this so much desired object ; 
the one, by the study of wisdom and the practice of virtue ; the other, 
by the acquisition of wealth and greatness. Two different characters 
are presented to our emulation ; the one, of proud ambition and osten- 
tatious avidity ; the other, of humble modesty and equitable justice. 
Two different models, two different pictures, are held out to us, accord- 
ing to which we may fashion our own character and behaviour ; the 
one more gaudy and glittering in its colouring ; the other more correct 
and more exquisitely beautiful in its outline : the one forcing itself upon 
the notice of every wandering eye ; the other, attracting the attention 
of scarce any body but the most studious and careful observer. They 
are the wise and the virtuous chiefly, a select, though^ I am afraid, but 
a small party, who are the real and steady admirers of wisdom and 
virtue. The great mob of mankind are the admirers and worshippers, 
and, what may seem more extraordinary, most frequently the disin^ 
terested admirers and worshippers, of wealth and greatness. 

The respect which we feel for wisdom and virtue is, no doubt, dif- 
ferent from that which we conceive for wealth and greatness ; and it 
requires no very nice discernment to distinguish the difference. But, 
notwithstanding this difference, those sentiments bear a very consider- 
able resemblance to one another. In some particular features they are, 
no doubt, different, but, in the general air of the countenance, they seem 
to be so very nearly the same, that inattentive observers are very apt 
to mistake the one for the other. 

In equal degrees of merit there is scarce any man who does not 
respect more the rich and the gredt, than the poor and the humble. 
With most men the presumption and vanity of the former are much 
more admired, than the real and soUd merit of the latter. It is scarce 



agreeable to good morals, or even to good language, perhaps, to say, 
that mere wealth and greatness, abstracted from merit and virtue, 
deserve our respect We must acknowledge, however, that they 
almost constantly obtain it; and that they may, therefore, be con- 
sidered as, in some respects, the natural objects of it Those exalted 
stations may, no doubt, be completely degraded by vice and folly. 
But, the vice and folly must be very great, before they can operate this 
complete degradation. The profligacy of a man of fashion is looked 
upon with much less contempt and aversion, than that of a man of 
meaner condition. In the latter, a single transgression of the rules of 
temperance and" propriety, is commonly more resented, than the con- 
stant and avowed contempt of them ever is in the former. 

In the middling and inferior stations of Hfe, the road to virtue and 
that to fortune, to such fortune, at least, as men in such stations can 
reasonably expect to acquire, are, happily, in most cases, very nearly 
the same. In all the middling and inferior professions, real and sohd 
professional abilities, joined to prudent, just, firm, and temperate con- 
duct, can very seldom fail of success. Abilities will even sometimes 
prevail where the conduct is by no means correct Either habitual 
imprudence, however, or injustice, or weakness, or profligacy, will 
always cloud, and sometimes depress altogether, the most splendid 
professional abilities. Men in the inferior and middling stations of 
hfe, besides, can never be great enough to be above the law, which 
must generally overawe them into some sort of respect for, at least, the 
more important rules of justice. The success of such people, too, 
almost always depends upon the favour and good opinion of their 
neighbours and equals ; and without a tolerably regular conduct these 
can very seldom be obtained. The good old proverb, therefore, that 
honesty is the best policy, holds, in such situations, almost always per- 
fectly true. In such situations, therefore, we may generally expect a 
considerable degree of virtue ; and, fortunately for the good morals of 
society, these are the situations of the greater part of mankind. 

In the superior stations of life the case is unhappily not always the 
same. In the courts of princes, in the drawing-rooms of the great, 
where success and preferment depend, not upon the esteem of intelli- 
gent and well-informed equals, but upon the fanciful and foolish favour 
of ignorant, presumptuous, and proud superiors ; flattery and falsehood 
too often prevail over merit and abilities. In such societies the abilities 
to please, are more regarded than the abilities to serve. In quiet and 
peaceable times, when the storm is at a distance, the prince, or great 
man, wishes only to be amused, and is even apt to fancy that he has 
scarce any occasion for the service of any body, or that those who 
amuse him are sufficiently able to serve him. The external graces, the 
frivolous accomplishments of that impertinent and fooUsh thing called 
a man of fashion, are commonly more admired than the sohd and 


masculine virtues of a warrior, a statesman, a philosopher, or a legis- 
lator. All the great and awful virtues, all the virtues which can fit, 
either for the council, the senate, or the field, are, by the insolent and 
insignificant flatterers, who commonly figure the most in such corrupted 
societies, held in the utmost contempt and derision. When the Duke 
of Sully was called upon by Louis the Thirteenth, to give his advice in 
some great emergency, he observed the favourites and courtiers whis- 
pering to one another, and smiling at his unfashionable appearance. 
' Whenever your Majesty's father,* said the old warrior and statesman, 
'did me the honour to consult me, he ordered the buffoons of the court 
*to retire into the antechamber.' 

It is from our disposition to admire, and consequently to imitate, the J 
rich and the great, that they are enabled to set, or to lead, what is called 
the fashion. Their dress is the fashionable dress; the language of 
their conversation, the fashionable style ; their air and deportment, the 
fashionable behaviour. Even their vices and follies are fashionable ; 
and the greater part of men are proud to imitate and resemble them in 
the very qualities which dishonour and degrade them. Vain men often 
give themselves airs of a fashionable profligacy, which, in their hearts, 
they do not approve of, and of which, perhaps, they are really not 
guilty. They desire to be praised for what they themselves do not 
think praiseworthy, and are ashamed of unfashionable virtues which 
they sometimes practise in secret, and for which they have secretly 
some degree of real veneration. There are hypocrites of wealth and 
greatness, as well as of religion and virtue ; and a vain man is as apt 
to pretend to be what he is not, in the one way, as a cunning man is in 
the other. He assumes the equipage and splendid way of living of his 
superiors, without considering that whatever may be praiseworthy in 
any of these, derives its whole merit and propriety from its suitableness 
to that situation and fortune which both require and can easily support 
the expense. Many a poor man places his glory in being thought rich, 
without considering that the duties (if one may call such follies by so 
venerable a name) which that reputation imposes upon him, must soon 
reduce him to beggary, and render his situation still more unlike that 
of those whom he admires and imitates, than it had been originally. 

To attain to this envied situation, the candidates for fortune too 
frequently abandon the paths of virtue ; for unhappily, the road which 
leads to the one, and that which leads to the other, lie sometimes in 
very opposite directions. But the ambitious man flatters himself that, 
in tiie splendid situation to which he advances, he will have so many 
means of commanding the respect and admiration of mankind, and will "^ 
be enabled to act with such superior propriety and grace, that the 
lustre of his future conduct will entirely cover, or efface, the foulness of 
the steps by which he arrived at that elevation. In many governments 
the candidates for the highest stations are above the law; and, if they 



can attain the object of their ambition, they have no fear of being 
called to account for the means by which they acquired it They often 
endeavour, therefore, not only by fraud and falsehood, the ordinary and 
vulgar arts of intrigue and cabal ; but sometimes by the perpetration 
of the most enormous crimes, by murder and assassination, by rebel- 
lion and civil war, to supplant and destroy those who oppose or stand 
in the way of their greatness. They more frequently miscarry than 
succeed ; and commonly gain nothing but the disgraceful punishment 
which is due to their crimes. But, though they should be so lucky as 
to attain that wished-for greatness, they are always most miserably 
disappointed in the happiness which they expect to enjoy in it It is 
not ease or pleasure, but always honour, of one kind or another, though 
frequently an honour very ill understood, that the ambitious man really 
pursues. But the honour of his exalted station appears, both in his 
own eyes and in those of other people, polluted and defiled by the 
baseness of the means through which he rose to it Though by the 
profusion of every liberal expense ; though by excessive indulgence in 
every profligate pleasure, the wretched, but usual, resource of ruined 
characters ; though by the hurry of public business, or by the prouder 
and more dazzling tiunult of war, he may endeavour to efface, both 
from his own memory and from that of other people, the remembrance 
of what he has done ; that remembrance never fails to pursue him. He 
invokes in vain the dark and dismal powers of forgetfulness and obli- 
vion. He remembers himself what he has done, and that remembrance 
tells him that other people must likewise remember it Amidst all the 
gaudy pomp of the most ostentatious greatness ; amidst the venal and 
vile adulation of the great and of the learned ; amidst the more innocent, 
though more foolish, acclamations of the common people ; amidst all 
the pride of conquest and the triumph of successful war, he is still secretly 
pursued by the avenging furies of shame and remorse ; and, while glory 
seems to surround him on all sides, he himself, in his own imagination, 
sees black and foul infamy fast pursuing him, and every moment ready 
to overtake him from behind. Even the great Caesar, though he had 
the magnanimity to dismiss his guards, could not dismiss his sus- 
picions. The remembrance of Pharsalia still haunted and pursued him. 
When, at the request of the senate, he had the generosity to pardon 
Marcellus, he told that assembly, that he was not unaware of the de- 
signs which were carrying on against his life ; but that, as he had lived 
long enough both for nature and for glory, he was contented to die, and 
therefore despised all conspiracies. He had, perhaps, lived long enough 
for nature. But the man who felt himself the object of such deadly 
resentment from those whose favour he wished to gain, and whom he 
still wished to consider as his friends, had certainly lived too long for 
real glory ; or for all the happiness which he could ever hope to enjoy 
in the love and esteem of his equals. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 6i 

Part 11. — Of Merit and Demerit; or, of the Objects of 
Reward and Punishment. 

Sec I. — Of the Sense of Merit and Demerit. 

Introduction. — There is another set of qualities ascribed to the 
actions and conduct of mankind, distinct from their propriety or im- 
propriety, their decency or ungracefulness, and which are the objects 
of a distinct species of approbation and disapprobation. These are 
Merit and Demerit, the qualities of deserving reward and of deserving 

It has already been observed, that the sentiment or affection of the 
heart, from which any action proceeds, and upon which its whole virtue 
or vice depends, may be considered under two different aspects, or in 
two different relations : first, in relation to the cause or object which 
excites it ; and, secondly, in relation to the end which it proposes, or to 
the effect which it tends to produce: that upon the suitableness or 
unsuitableness, upon the proportion or disproportion, which the affec- 
tion seems to bear to the cause or object which excites it, depends the 
propriety or impropriety, the decency or ungracefulness of the conse- 
quent action ; and that upon the beneficial or hurtful effects which the 
affection proposes or tends to produce, depends the merit or demerit, 
the good or ill desert of the action to which it gives occasion. Wherein 
consists our sense of the propriety or impropriety of actions, has been 
explained in the former part of this discourse. We come now to con- 
sider, wherein consists that of their good or ill desert 

Chap. I. — That whatever appears to be the proper Object of Gratitude, 
appears to deserve Reward; and that, in the same Manner, whatevef 
appears to be the proper Object of Resentment, appears to deserve 

To us, therefore, that action must appear to deserve reward, which 
appears to be the proper and approved object of that sentiment, which 
most immediately and directly prompts us to reward, or to do good to 
another. And in the same manner, that action must appear to deserve 
punishment, which appears to be the proper and approved object of 
that sentiment which most immediately and directly prompts us to 
punish, or to inflict evil upon another. 

The sentiment which most inunediately and directly prompts us to 
reward, is gratitude ; that which most immediately and directly prompts 
us to punish, is resentment. 


To US, therefore, that action must appear to deserve reward, which 
appears to be the proper and approved object of gratitude ; as, on the 
other hand, that action must appear to deserve punishment, which 
ai^pears to be the proper and approved object of resentment. 

To reward, is to recompense, to remunerate, to return good for good 
received. To punish, too, is to recompense, to remunerate, though in 
a different manner; it is to return evil for evil that has been done. 

There are some other passions, besides gratitude and resentment, 
which interest us in the happiness or misery of others ; but there are 
' none which so directly excite us as to be instruments of either. The 
love and esteem which grow upon acquaintance and habitual approba- 
tion, necessarily lead us to be pleased with the good fortune of the man 
who is the object of such agreeable emotions, and consequently to be 
willing to lend a hand to promote it Our love, however, is fully satis- 
fied, though his good fortune should be brought about without our 
assistance. All that this passion desires is to see him happy, without 
regarding who was the author of his prosperity. But gratitude is not 
y/ to be satisfied in this manner. If the person to whom we owe many 
*^ obligations, is made happy without our assistance, though it pleases 
our love, it does not content our gratitude. Till we have recompensed 
him, till we ourselves have been instrumental in promoting his happi- 
ness, we feel ourselves still loaded with that debt which his past 
services have laid upon us. 

The hatred and dislike, in the same manner, which grow upon the 
habitual disapprobation, would often lead us to take a malicious plea- 
sure in the misfortune of the man whose conduct and character excite 
so painful a passion. But though dislike and hatred harden us against 
all sympathy, and sometimes dispose us even to rejoice at the distress 
of another, yet, if there is no resentment in the case, if lieither we nor 
our friends have received any great personal provocation, these 
passions would not naturally lead us to wish to be instrumental in bring- 
ing it about. Though we could fear no punishment in consequence of 
our having had some hand in it, we would rather that it should happen 
/ by other means. To one under the dominion of violent hatred it would 
be agreeable, perhaps, to hear, that the person whom he abhorred and 
detested was killed by some accident But if he had the least spark of 
justice, which, though this passion is not very favourable to virtue, he 
might still have, it would hurt him excessively to have been himself, 
even without design, the occasion of this misfortune. Much more 
would the very thought of voluntarily contributing to it shock him 
beyond all measure. He would reject with horror even the imagina- 
tion of so execrable a design ; and if he could imagine himself capable 
of such an enormity, he would begin to regard to himself in the same 
odious light in which he had considered the person who was the object 
of his dislike. But it is quite otherwise with resentment : if the person 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 63 

who had done us some great injury, who had murdered our father or 
our brother, for example, should soon afterwards die of a fever, or even 
be brought to the scaffold upon account of some other crime, though it 
might soothe our hatred, it would not fully gratify our resentment Re- 
sentment would prompt us to desire, not only that he should be punished, 
but that he should be punished by our means, and upon account of that 
particular injury which he had done to us. Resentment cannot be fully 
gratified, unless the offender is not only made to grieve in his turn, but 
to grieve for that particular wrong which we have suffered from him. 
He must be made to repent and be sorry for this very action, that 
others, through fear of the hke punishment, may be terrified from being 
guilty of the like offence. The natural gratification of this passion 
tends, of its own accord, to produce all the political ends of punish- 
ment ; the correction of the criminal, and example to the public. 

Gratitude and resentment, therefore, are the sentiments which most 
immediately and directly prompt to reward and to punish. To us, 
therefore, he must appear to deserve reward, who appears to be the 
proper and approved object of gratitude ; and he to deserve punish- 
ment, who appears to be that of resentment. 

Chap. II.— Q/" the proper Objects of Gratitude and Resentment. 

To be the proper and approved object either of gratitude or resentment, 
can mean nothing but to be the object of that gratitude and of that 
resentment which naturally seems proper, and is approved of.- 

But these, as well as all the other passions of human nature, seem 
proper and are approved of, when the heart of every impartial spectator 
entirely sympathizes with them, when every indifferent by-stander 
entirely enters into and goes along with them. 

He, therefore, appears to deserve reward, who, to some person or 
persons, is the natural object of a gratitude which every human heart 
is disposed to beat time to, and thereby applaud : and he, on the other 
hand, appears to deserve punishment, who in the same manner is to 
some person or persons the natural object of a resentment which the 
breast of every reasonable man is ready to adopt and sjrmpathize with. 
To us, surely, that action must appear to deserve reward, which every 
body who knows of it would wish to reward, and therefore delights to 
see rewarded : and that action must as surely appear to deserve punish- 
ment, which every body who hears of it is angry with, and upon that 
account rejoices to see punished. 

I. As we sympathize with the joy of our companions, when in pros- 
perity, so we join with them in the complacency and satisfaction with 
which they naturally regard whatever is tiie cause of tjheir good fortune. 


We enter into the love and affection which they conceive for it, and 
begin to love it too. We should be sorry for their sakes if it was de- 
stroyed, or even if it was placed at too great a distance from them, and 
out of the reach of their care and protection, though they should lose 
nothing by its absence except the pleasure of seeing it. If it is man 
who has thus been the fortunate instrument of the happiness of his 
brethren, this is still more pecuharly the case. When we see one man 
assisted, protected, relieved by another, our sympathy with the joy of 
the person who receives the benefit serves only to animate our fellow- 
feeling with his gratitude towards him who bestows it. When we look 
upon the person who is the cause of his pleasure with the eyes with 
which we imagine he must look upon him, his benefactor seems to 
stand before us in the most engaging and amiable light. We readily 
therefore sympathize with the grateful affection which he conceives for 
a person to whom he has been so much obliged ; and consequently 
applaud the returns which he is disposed to make for the good offices 
conferred upon him. As we entirely enter into the affection from 
which these returns proceed, they necessarily seem every way proper 
and suitable to their object. 

2. In the same manner, as we sympathize with the sorrow of our 
fellow-creature whenever we see his distress, so we likewise enter into 
his abhorrence and aversion for whatever has given occasion to it Our 
heart, as it adopts and beats time to his grief, so is it likewise animated 
with that spirit by which he endeavours to drive away or destroy the 
cause of it The indolent and passive fellow-feeling, by which we 
accompany him in his sufferings, readily gives way to that more vigor- 
ous and active sentiment by which we go along with him in the effort 
he makes, either to repeal them, or to gratify his aversion to what has 
given occasion to them. This is still more peculiarly the case, when it 
is man who has caused them. When we see one man oppressed or 
injured by another, the sympathy which we feel with the distress of the 
sufferer seems to serve only to animate our feUow-feeling with his 
resentment against the offender. We are rejoiced to see him attack 
his adversary in his turn, and are eager and ready to assist him when- 
ever he exerts himself for defence, or even for vengeance within a 
certain degree. If the injured should perish in the quarrel, we not 
only sympathize with the real resentment of his friends and relations, 
but with the imaginary resentment which in fancy we lend to the dead, 
who is no longer capable of feeling that or any other human sentiment 
But as we put ourselves in his situation, as we enter, as it were, into 
his body, and in our imaginations, in some measure, animate anew the 
deformed and mangled carcass of the slain, when we bring home in 
this manner his case to our own bosoms, we feel upon this, as upon 
many other occasions, an emotion which the person principally con- 
cerned is incapable of feeling, and which yet we feel by an illusive 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 6s 

sympathy with him. The sympathetic tears which we shed for that 
immense and irretrievable loss, which in our fancy he appears to have 
sustained, seem to be but a small part of the duty which we owe him. 
The injury which he has suffered demands, we think, a principal part 
of our attention. We feel that resentment which we imagine he ought 
to feel, and which he would feel, if in his cold and lifeless body there 
remained any consciousness of what passes upon earth. His blood, 
we think, calls aloud for vengeance. The very ashes of the dead seem 
to be disturbed at the thought that his injuries are to pass unrevenged. 
The horrors which are supposed to haunt the bed of the murderer, the 
ghosts which superstition imagines rise from their graves to demand 
vengeance upon those who brought them to an untimely end, all take 
their origin from this natural sympathy with the imaginary resentment 
of the slain. And with regard, at least, to this most dreadful of all 
crimes. Nature, antecedent to all reflection upon the utility of punish- 
ment, has in this manner stamped upon the human heart, in the 
strongest and most indelible characters, an immediate and instinctive 
approbation of the sacred and necessary law of retaliation. 

Chap. Ill,— That where there is no Approbation of the Conduct 
of the Person who confers the Benefit ^ there is little Sympathy with the 
Gratitude of him who receives it: and that^ on the Contrary, where 
there is no Disapprobation of the Motives of the Person who does 
the Mischief there is no Sort of Sympathy with the Resentment oj 
him who staffers it. 

It is to be observed, however, that, how beneficial soever on the one 
hand, or hurtful soever on the other, the actions or intentions of the 
person who acts may have been to the person who is, if I may say so, 
acted upon, yet if in the one case there appears to have been no pro- 
priety in the motives of the agent, if we cannot enter into the aflfec- 
tions which influenced his conduct, we have little sympathy with the 
gratitude of the person who receives the benefit : or if, in the other 
case, there appears to have been no impropriety in the motives of the 
agent, if, on the contrary, th^ affections which influenced his conduct 
are such as we must necessarily enter into, we can have no sort of 
sympathy with the resentment of the person who suffers. Little 
gratitude seems due in the one case, and all sort of resentment seems 
unjust in the other. The one action seems to merit httle reward, the 
other to deserve no punishment. 

I. First, I say, that wherever we cannot sympathize with the affec- 
tions of the agent, wherever there seems to be no propriety in the motives 
which influenced his conduct, we are less disposed to enter into the 


gratitude of the person who received the benefit of his actions. A very 
/, small return seems due to that foolish and profuse generosity which. 
.^< confers the greatest benefits from the most trivial motives, and gives an 

/^ estate to a man merely because his name and surname happen to be 

"^ the same with those of the giver. Such services do not seem to de- 

*" "*^ mand any proportionable recompense. Our contempt for the foUy of 

the agent hinders us from thoroughly entering into the gratitude of the 
i person to whom the good office has been done. His benefactor seems 
unworthy of it. As when we place ourselves in the situation of the 
person obliged, we feel that we could conceive no great reverence for 
such a benefactor, we easily absolve him from a great deal of that 
submissive veneration and esteem which we should think due to a more 
respectable character ; and provided he always treats his weak friend 
with kindness and humanity, we are willing to excuse him from many 
attentions and regards which we should demand to a worthier patron. 
Those princes who have heaped, with the greatest profusion, wealth, 
power and honours, upon their favourites, have seldom excited that 
degree of attachment to their persons which has often been experi- 
enced by those who were more frugal of their favours. The well- 
natured, but injudicious prodigality of James the First of Great Britain 
seems to have attached nobody to his person ; and that prince, notwith- 
standing his social and harmless disposition, appears to have lived and 
died without a friend. The whole gentry and nobility of England ex- 
posed their lives and fortunes in the cause of Charles L, his more 
frugal and distinguishing son, notwithstanding the coldness and distant 
severity of his ordinary deportment 

2. Secondly, I say. That wherever the conduct of the agent appears 
to have been entirely directed by motives and affections which we 
thoroughly enter into and approve of, we can have no sort of sympathy 
with the resentment of the sufferer, how great soever the mischief 
which may have been done to him. When two people quarrel, if we 
take part with, and entirely adopt the resentment of one of them, it is 
impossible that we should enter into that of the other. Our sympathy 
with the person whose motives we go along with, and whom therefore 
we look upon as in the right, cannot but harden us against all fellow- 
feeling with the other, whom we necessarily regard as in the wrong. 
Whatever this last, therefore, may have suffered, while it is no more 
than what we ourselves should have wished him to suffer, while it is no 
more than what our own sympathetic indignation would have prompted 
us to inflict upon him, it cannot either displease or provoke us. When 
an inhuman murderer is brought to the scaffold, though we have some 
compassion for his misery, we can have no sort of fellow-feeling with 
his resentment, if he should be so absurd as to express any against 
either his prosecutor or his judge. The natural tendency of their just 
indignation against so vile a criminal is indeed the most fatal and 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 6 J 

ruinous to Him. But it is impossible that we should be displeased with 
the tendency of a sentiment, which, when we bring the case home to 
ourselves, we feel that we cannot avoid adopting. 

Chap. IV. — Recapitulation of the foregoing Chapters, 

I, We do not therefore thoroughly and heartily sympathize with the 
gratitude of one man towards another, merely because this other has 
been the cause of his good fortune, unless he has been the cause of it 
from motives which we entirely go along with. Our heart must adopt 
the principles of the agent, and go along with all the affections which 
influenced his conduct, before it can entirely sympathize with and beat 
time to, the gratitude of the person who has been benefited by his 
actions. If in the conduct of the benefactor there appears to have 
been no propriety, how beneficial soever its effects, it does not seem to 
demand, or necessarily to require, any proportionable recompense. 

But when to the beneficent tendency of the action is joined the pro» 
priety of the affection from which it proceeds, when we entirely sjrm- 
pathize and go along with the motives of the agent, the love which we 
conceive for him- upon his own account enhances and enlivens our 
fellow-feeling with the gratitude of those who owe their prosperity to 
his good conduct. His actions seem then to demand, and, if I may 
say so, to call aloud for a proportionable recompense. We then entirely 
enter into that gratitude which prompts to bestow it The benefactor 
seems then to be the proper object of reward, when we thus entirely 
sympathize with, and approve of, that sentiment which prompts to 
reward him. When we approve of, and go along with, the affection 
from which the action proceeds, we must necessarily approve of the 
action, and regard the person towards whom it is directed, as its proper 
and suitable object 

2. In the same manner, we cannot at all sympathize with the resent- 
ment of one man against another, merely because this other has been 
the cause of his misfortune, unless he has been the cause of it from 
motives which we cannot enter into. Before we can adopt the resent- 
ment of the sufferer, we must disapprove of the motives of the agent, 
and feel that our heart renounces all sympathy with the affections which 
influenced his conduct If there appears to have been no impropriety 
in these, how fatal soever the tendency of the action which proceeds 
irom them to those against whom it is directed, it does not seem 
to deserve any punishment, or to be the proper object of any resent- 

But when to the hurtfulness of the action is joined the impropriety 
of the affection from whence it proceeds, when our heart rejects with 


abhorrence all fellow-feeling with the motives of the agent, we then 
heartily and entirely S3rmpathize with the resentment of the sufferer. 
Such actions seem then to deserve, and, if I may say so, to call aloud 
for, a proportionable punishment ; and we entirely enter into, and there- 
by approve of, that resentment whiclv prompts to inflict it. The of- 
fender necessarily seems then to be the proper object of punishment, 
when we thus entirely sympathize with, and thereby approve of, that 
sentiment which prompts to punish. In this case too, when we approve, 
and go along with, the affection from which the action proceeds, we 
must necessarily approve the action, and regard the person against 
whom it is directed, as its proper and suitable object 

Chap. V. — The Analysis of the Sense of Merit and Demerit, 

I. As our sense, therefore, of the propriety of conduct arises from what 
I shall call a direct sympathy with the affections and motives of the 
person who acts, so our sense of its merit arises from what I shall call 
an indirect sympathy with the gratitude of the person who is, if I may 
say so, acted upon. 

As we cannot indeed enter thoroughly into the gratitude of the per- 
son who receives the benefit, unless we beforehand approve of the 
motives of the benefactor, so, upon this account, the sense of merit 
seems to be a compounded sentiment, and to be made up of two dis- 
tinct emotions ; a direct sympathy with the sentiments of the agents, 
and an indirect sympathy with the gratitude of those who receive the 
benefit of his actions. 

We may, upon many different occasions, plainly distinguish those 
two different emotions combining and uniting together in our sense of 
the good desert of a particular character or action. When we read in 
history concerning actions of proper and beneficent greatness of mind, 
how eagerly do we enter into such designs ? How much are we ani- 
mated by that high-spirited generosity which directs them ? How keen 
are we for their success ? How grieved at their disappointment ? In 
imagination we become the very person whose actions are represented 
to us : we transport ourselves in fancy to the scenes of those distant 
and forgotten adventures, and imagine ourselves acting the part of a 
Scipio or a Camillus, a Timoleon or an Aristides. So far our sentiments 
are founded upon the direct sympathy with the person who acts. Nor 
is the indirect sympathy with those who receive the benefit of such 
actions less sensibly felt. Whenever .we place ourselves in the situa- 
tion of these last, with what warm and affectionate fellow-feeling do we 
enter into their gratitude towards those who served them so essentially ? 
We embrace, as it were, their benefactor along with them. Our heart 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 69 

readily sympathizes with the highest transports of their grateful affec- 
tion. No honours, no rewards, we think, can be too great for them to 
bestow upon him. When they make this proper return for his services, 
we heartily applaud and go along with them ; but are shocked beyond 
all measure, if by their conduct they appear to have little sense of the 
obligations conferred upon them. Our whole sense, in short, of the 
merit and good desert of such actions, of the propriety and fitness of 
recompensing them, and making the person who performed them 
rejoice in his turn, arises from the S3rmpathetic emotions of gratitude 
and love, with which, when we bring home to our own breast the situa- 
tion of those principally concerned, we feel ourselves naturally trans- 
ported towards the man who could act with such proper and noble 

2. In the same manner as our sense of the impropriety of conduct 
arises from a want of sympathy, or from a direct antipathy to the 
affections and motives of the agent, so our sense of its demerit arises 
from what I shall here too call an indirect sympathy with the resent- 
ment of the sufferer. 

As we cannot indeed enter into the resentment of the sufferer, unless 
our heart beforehand disapproves the motives of the agent, and 
renounces all fellow-feeling with them ; so upon this account the sense 
of demerit, as well as that of merit, seems to be a compounded senti- 
ment, and to be made up of two distinct emotions ; a direct antipathy 
to the sentiments of the agent, and an indirect sympathy with the re- 
sentment of the sufferer. 

We may here too, upon many different occasions, plainly distinguish 
those two different emotions combining and uniting together in our 
sense of the ill desert of a particular character or action. When we 
read in history concerning the perfidy and cruelty of a Borgia or a 
Nero, our heart rises up against the detestable sentiments which influ- 
enced their conduct, and renounces with horror and abomination all 
fellow-feeling with such execrable motives. So far our sentiments are 
founded upon the direct antipathy to the affections of the agent : and 
the indirect sjrmpathy with the resentment of the sufferers is still more 
sensibly felt. When we bring home to ourselves the situation of the 
persons whom those scourges of mankind insulted, murdered, or be- 
trayed, what indignation do we not feel against such insolent and inhu- 
man oppressors of the earth ? Our sympathy with the unavoidable 
distress of the innocent sufferers is not more real nor more lively, than 
our fellow-feeling with their just and natural resentment. The former 
sentiment only heightens the latter, and the idea of their distress serves 
only to inflame and blow up our animosity against those who occa- 
sioned it When we think of the anguish of the sufferers, we take part 
with them more earnestly against their oppressors ; we enter with more 
eagerness into all their schemes of vengeance, and feel ourselves every 


moment wreaking, in imagination, upon such violators of the laws of 
society, that punishment which our sympathetic indignation tells us is 
due to their crimes. Our sense of the horror and dreadful atrocity of 
such conduct, the delight which we take in hearing that it was properly 
punished, the indignation which we feel when it escapes this due reta- 
liation, our whole sense and feeling, in short, of its ill desert, of the pro- 
priety and fitness of inflicting evil upon the person wh^ is guilty of it, 
and of making him grieve in his turn, arises from the sympathetic in- 
dignation which naturally boils up in the breast of the spectator, 
whenever he thoroughly brings home to himself the case of the 

Sect. II.—Of Justice and Beneficence. 

Chap. I. — Comparison of those two Virtues* 

Actions of a beneficent tendency, which proceed from proper motives, 
seem alone to require reward ; because such alone are the approved 
objects of gratitude, or excite the sympathetic gratitude of the spec- 

Actions of a hurtful tendency, which proceed from improper motives, 
seem alone to deserve punishment; because such alone are the ap- 
proved objects of resentment, or excite the sympathetic resentment of 
the spectator. 

Beneficence is always free, it cannot be extorted by force, the mere 

* To ascribe in this manner our natuxal sense of the ill desert of human actions to a sympathy 
with the resentment of the sufferer, may seem, to the greater part of the people, to be a degra- 
dation of that sentiment. Resentment is commonly regarded as so odious a passion, 'that they 
will be apt to think it impossible that so laudable a principle, as the sense of the ill desert 
of vice, should in any respect be founded upon it. They will be more willing, pei^ 
haps, to admit that our sense of the merit of good actions is founded upon a sympathy with 
the gratitude of the persons who receive the benefit of them ; because gratitude, as well as all 
the other benevolent passions, is regarded as an amiable principle, which can take nothing 
from the worth of whatever is founded upon it. Gratitude and resentment, however, are in 
every respect, it is evident, counterparts to one another; and if our sense of merit arises from, 
a sympathy with the one, our sense of demerit can scarce miss to proceed from a fellow-feeling 
with the other. 

Let it be considered, too, that resentment, though in the degree in which we too often see it, 
the most odious, perhaps, of all the passions, is not disapproved of when properly humbled and 
entirely brought down to the level of the sympathetic indignation of the spectator. When we 
who are the bystanders, feel that our own animosity entirely corresponds with that of the 
sufferer, when the resentment of this last does not in any respect go beyond our own, when no 
word, no gesture, escapes him that denotes an emotion more violent than what we can keep 
time to, and when he never aims at inflicting any punishment beyond what we should 
rejoice to see inflicted, or what we ourselves would upon this account even desire to be the 
instruments of inflicting, it is impossible that we should not entirely approve of his sentiment. 
Our own emotion in this case must, in our eyes, undoubtedly justify his. And as experience 
teaches us how much the greater part of mankind are incapable of this moderadon, and ho«r 
great an effort must be made in order to bring down the rude and undisciplined impulse of 
resentment to this suitable temper, we cannot avoid conceiving a considerable degree of esteem 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 7X 

want of it exposes to no punishment ; because the mere want of bene- 
ficence tends to do no real positive evil It may disappoint of the 

and admiration for one who appears capable of exerting so much self-command over one of the 
most ungovernable passions of his nature. When indeed the animosity of the sufferer exceeds, 
as it almost always does, that we can go along with, as wecamiot enter into it, we necessarily 
disaq>prove of it. We even disapprove of it more than we should of an equal excess of almost 
any other passion derived from the imagination. And this too violent resentment, instead of 
carrying us along with it becomes itself the object of our resentment and indignation. We 
enter into the opposite resentment of the person who is the object of this unjust emotion, and 
who is in danger of suffering from it. Revenge, therefore, the excess of resentment, appears 
to be the most detestable of all the passions, and is the object of the horror and indignation of 
every body. And as in the way in which this passion conunonly discovers itself among man- 
kind, it is excessive a himdred times for once that tt is immoderate, we are very apt to consider 
it as altogether odious and detestable, because in its most ordinary ap p ea r ances it is so. Na- 
ture, however, even in the present depraved state of mankind, does not seem to have dealt so 
unkindly with us, as to have endowed us with any prindple which is wholly and in every 
respect evil, or which, in no degree and in no direction, can be the proper object of praise and 
approbation. Upon some occasions we are sensible that this passion, which is generally too 
strong, may likewise be too weak. We sometimes complain that a particular person shows 
too little spirit, and has too little sense of the injuries that have been done to him; and we are 
as ready to despise him for the defect, as to hate him for the excess of this passion. 

The inspired writers would not surely have talked so firequently or so strongly of the wrath 
and anger of God, if they had regarded every degree of those passions as vicious and evil, even 
m so weak and imperfect a creature as man. 

Let it be considered too, that the present inquiry is not cooceming a matter of right, if I nuiy 
say so, but concerning a matter of fact. We are not at present examining upon what prin- 
ciples a perfect being would approve of the punishment of bad actions ; but upon what princi- 
ples so weak and imperfect a creature as man actually and in fact approves of it. The prin- 
ciples which I have just now mentioned, it is evident, have a very great effect upon his senti- 
ments ; and it seems wisely ordered that it should be so. The very existence of society requires 
that unmerited and tmprovoked malice should be restrained by proper punishments ; and con- 
sequently, that to inflict those punishments should be regarded as a proper and laudable action. 
Though man, therefore, be naturally endowed with a desire of the welfare and preservation of 
sodety, yet die Author of nature has not entrusted it to his reason to find out that a certain 
application of piinishments is the proper means of attaining this end ; but has endowed him 
with an immediate and instinctive approbation of that very application which is most proper to 
attain it. The oeconomy of nature is in this respect exactly of a piece with what it is upon 
many other occasions. With regard to all those ends which, upon account of their peculiar 
importance, maybe regarded, if such an expression is allowable, as the favourite ends of nature^ 
she has constantly in this manner not only endowed mankind with an appetite for the end 
which she proposes, but likewise with an appetite for the means by which alone this end can be 
brought about, for their own sakes, and independent of their tendency to produce it. Thus 
self-preservation, and the propagation of the species, are the great ends which Nature seems 
to have proposed in the formation of all animals. Mankind are endowed with a desire of those 
ends, and an aversion to the contrary ; with a love of life, and a dread of dissolution ; with a 
desire of the continuance and perpetuity of the species, and with an aversion to the thoughts 
of its entire extinction. But though we are in this manner endowed with a very strong desire 
Of those ends, it has not been intrusted to the slow and uncertain determinations of our reason 
to find out the proper means of bringing them about. Nature has directed us to the greater 
part of these by original and immediate instincts. Hunger, thirst, the passion which unites 
the two sexes, the love of pleasure, and the dread of pain, prompt us to apply those means for 
their own sakes, and without any consideration of their tendency to those beneficent ends 
which the great Director of nature intended to produce by them. 

Before I conclude this note, I must take notice of a difference between the approbation of 
propriety and that of merit or beneficence. Before we approve of the sentiments of any person 
as proper and suitable to their objects, we must not only be affected in the same manner 
as he i«, but we must perceive this harmony and correspondence of sentiments between him 
and ourselves. Thus, though upon hearing of a.misfortune that had befallen my friend, I should 



good which might reasonably have been expected, and upon that 
account it may justly excite dislike and disapprobation : it cannot, how- 
ever, provoke any resentment which mankind will go along with. The 
man who does not recompense his benefactor, when he has it in his 
power, and when his benefactor needs his assistance, is, no doubt, 
guilty of the blackest ingratitude. The heart of every impartial spec- 
tator rejects all fellow-feeling with the selfishness of his motives, and 
he is the proper object of the highest disapprobation. But still he does 
no positive hurt to any body. He only does not do that good which in 
propriety he ought to have done. He is the object of hatred, a passion 
which is naturally excited by impropriety of sentiment and behaviour ; 
not of resentment, a passion which is never properly called forth but 
by actions which tend to do real and positive hurt to some particular 
persons. His want of gratitude, therefore, cannot be punished. To 
oblige him by force to perform, what in gratitude he ought to perform, 
and what every impartial spectator would approve of him for perform- 
ing, would, if possible, be still more improper than his neglecting to 
perform it. His benefactor would dishonour himself if he attempted 
by violence to constrain him to gratitude, and it would be impertinent 
for any third person, who was not the superior of either, to intermeddle. 
But of all the duties of beneficence, those which gratitude recommends 
to us approach nearest to what is called a perfect and complete obliga- 
tion. What friendship, what generosity, what charity, would prompt 
us to do with universal approbation, is still more free, and can still less 
be extorted by force than the duties o\ gratitude. We talk of the debt 
of gratitude, not of charity, or generosity, nor even of friendship, when 
friendship is mere esteem, and has not been enhanced and complicated 
with gratitude for good offices. 

Resentment seems to have been given us by nature for defence, and 
for defence only. It is the safeguard of justice and the security of 
innocence. It prompts us to beat off the mischief which is attempted 
to be done to us, and to retaliate that which is already done; that the 

conceive precisely that degree of concern which he gives way to ; yet till I am informed of the 
manner in which he behaves, till I perceive the harmony between his emotions and mine, I 
cannot be said to approve of the sentiments which influence his behaviour. The approbation 
of propriety therefore requires, not only that we should entirely sympathize with the person 
who acts, but that we should perceive this perfect concord between his sentiments ,and our own. 
On the contrary, when I hear of a benefit that has been bestowed upon another person, let 
him who has received it be affected in what manner he pleases, if, by bringing his case home 
to myself, I feel gratitude arise in my own breast, I necessarily approve of the conduct of his 
benefactor, and regard it as meritorious, and the proper object of reward. Whether the person 
who has received the benefit conceives gratitude or not, cannot, it is evident, in any degree 
alter our sentiments with regard to the merit of him who has bestowed it. No actusd corres- 
pondence of sentiments, therefore, is here required. It is sufficient that if he was grateful, 
they would correspond ; and oiu* sense of merit is often founded upon one of those illusive 
sympathies, by which, when we bring home to ourselves the case of another, we are often 
affected in a manner in which the person principally concerned b incapable of being affected. 
There is a similar difference between our disapprobation of demerit, and that of impropriety 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 73 

offender maybe made to repent of his injustice, and that others, through 
fear of the like punishment, may be terrified from being guilty of the 
like offence. It must be reserved therefore for these purposes, nor can 
the spectator ever go along with it when it is exerted for any other. 
But the mere want of the beneficent virtues, though it may disappoint 
us of the good which might reasonably be expected, neither does, nor 
attempts to do, any mischief from which we can have occasion to 
defend ourselves. 

There is however another virtue, of which the observance is not left 
to the freedom of our own wills, which may be extorted by force, and 
of which the violation exposes to resentment, and consequently to 
punishment. This virtue is justice : the violation of justice is injury : 
it does real and positive hurt to some particular persons, from motives 
which are naturally disapproved of. It is, therefore, the proper object 
of resentment, and of punishment, which is the natural consequence of 
resentment As mankind go along with and approve of the violence 
employed to avenge the hurt which is done by injustice, so they much 
more go along with, and approve of, that which is employed to prevent 
and beat off the injury, and to restrain the offender from hurting his 
neighbours. The person himself who meditates an injustice is sensible 
of this, and feels that force may, with the utmost propriety, be made 
use of, both by the person whom he is about to injure, and by others, 
either to obstruct the execution of his crime, or to punish him when he 
has executed it And upon this is founded that remarkable distinction ' 
between justice and all the other social virtues, which has of late been j 
particularly insisted upon by an author of very great and original genius, 
that we feel ourselves to be under a stricter obligation to act according i 
to justice, than agreeably to friendship, charity, or generosity ; that the [ 
practice of these last mentioned virtues seems to be left in some mea- 
sure to our own choice, but that, somehow or other, we feel ourselves , 
to be in a peculiar manner tied, bound, and obliged to the observation 1 
of justice. We feel, that is to say, that force may, with the utmost i 
propriety, and with the approbation of all mankind, be made use of to 
constrain us to observe the rules of the one, but not to follow the pre- 
cepts of the other. 

We must always, however, carefully distinguish what is only blam- 
able, or the proper object of disapprobation, from what force may be 
employed either to punish or to prevent That seems blamable which 
falls short of that ordinary degree of proper beneficence which experi- 
ence teaches us to expect of every body ; and on the contrary, that 
seems praise-worthy which goes beyond it The ordinary degree itself 
seems neither blamable nor praise-worthy. A father, a son, a brother, 
who behaves to the correspondent relation neither better nor worse 
than the greater part of men commonly do, seems properly to deserve 
neither praise nor blame. He who surprises us by extraordinary and 



unexpected, though still proper and suitable kindness, or on the con^ 
trary, by extraordinary and unexpected as well as unsuitable unkind- 
ness, seems praise-worthy in the one case, and blamable in the other. 

Even the most ordinary degree of kindness or beneficence, however, 
cannot among equals, be extorted by force. Among equals each indi- 
vidual is naturally, and antecedent to the institution of civil govern- 
ment, regarded as having a right both to defend himself from injuries, 
and to exact a certain degree of punishment for those which have been 
done to him. Every generous spectator not only approves of his con- 
duct when he does this, but enters so far into bis sentiments as often to 
be willing to assist him. When one man attacks, or robs, or attempts 
to murder another, all the neighbours take, the alarm, and think that 
they do right when they run,«ither to revenge the person who has been 
injured, or to defend him who is in danger of being so. But when a 
father fails in the ordinary degree of parental affection towards a son; 
when a son seems to want that filial reverence which might be expected 
to his father; when brothers are without the usual degree of brotherly 
affection ; when a man shuts his breast against compassion, and refuses 
to relieve the misery of his fellow-creatures, when he can with the 
greatest ease ; in all these cases, though every body blames the conduct, 
nobody imagines that those who might have reason, perhaps, to expect 
more kindness, have any right to extort it by force. The sufferer can 
only complain, and the spectator can intermeddle no other way than by 
advice and persuasion. Upon all such occasions, for equals to use 
force against one another, would be thought the highest degree of 
insolence and presumption. 

A superior may, indeed, sometimes, with universal approbation, oblige 
those under his jurisdiction to behave, in this respect, with a certain 
degree of propriety to one another. The laws of all civilized nations 
oblige parents to maintain their children, amd children to maintain theu- 
parents, and impose upon men many other duties of beneficence. The 
civil magistrate is entrusted with the power not only of preserving the 
public peace by restraining injustice, but of promoting the prosperity of 
the commonwealth, by establishing good discipline, and by discourag- 
ing every sort of vice and impropriety ; he may prescribe rules, there- 
fore, which not only prohibit mutual injuries among fellow-citizens, but 
command mutual good offices to a certain degree. When the sovereign 
commands what is merely indifferent, and what, antecedent to his 
orders, might have been omitted without any blame, it becomes not 
only blamable but punishable to disobey him. When he commands, 
therefore, what, antecedent to any such order, could not have been 
omitted without the greatest blame, it surely becomes much more 
punishable to be wanting in obedience. Of all the duties of a law- 
giver, however, this perhaps is that which it requires the greatest 
delicacy and reserve to execute with propriety and judgment To 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 75 

neglect it altogether exposes the commonwealth to many gross dis- 
orders and shocking enormities, and to push it too far is destructive of 
all liberty, security, and justice. 

Though the mere want of beneficence seems to merit no punishment 
from equals, the greater exertions of that virtue appear to deserve the 
highest reward. By being productive of the greatest good, they are 
the natural and approved objects of the liveliest gratitude. Though 
the breach of justice, on the contrary, exposes to punishment, the 
observance of the rules of that virtue seems scarce to deserve any 
reward. There is, no doubt, a propriety in the practice of justice, and 
it merits, upon that account, all the approbation which is due to pro- 
priety. But as it does no real positive good, it is entitled to very little 
gratitude. Mere justice is, upon most occasions, but a negative virtue, 
and only hinders us from hurting our neighbour. The man who barely 
abstains from violating either the person, or the estate, or the reputa- 
tion of his neighbours, has surely very little positive merit He fulfils, 
however, all the rules of what is peculiarly called justice, and does every 
thing which his equals can with propriety force him to do, or which 
they can punish him for not doing. We may often fulfil all the rules 
of justice by sitting still and doing nothing. 

As every man doth, so shall it be done to him, and retaliation seems 
to be the great law which is dictated to us by Nature. Beneficence and 
generosity we think due to the generous and beneficent. Those whose 
hearts never open to the feelings of humanity, should, we think, be shut 
out in the same manner, from the affections of all their fellow-creatures, 
and be allowed to live in the midst of society, as in a great desert where 
there is nobody to care for them, or to inquire after them. The violator 
of the laws of justice ought to be made to feel himself that evil which 
he has done to another ; and since no regard to the sufferings of his 
brethren is capable of restraining him, he ought to be over-awed by 
the fear of his own. The man who is barely innocent, who only ob- 
serves the laws of justice with regard to others, and merely abstains 
from hurting his neighbours, can merit only that his neighbours in their 
turn should respect his innocence, and that the same laws should be 
religiously observed with regard to him. 

Chap. II. — Of the Sense of Justice^ of Remorse^ and of the Conscious- 
ness of Merit. 
There can be no proper motive for hurting our neighbour, there can 
be no incitement to do evil to another, which mankind will go along 
with, except just indignation for evil which that other has done to us. 
To disturb his happiness merely because it stands in the way of our 
own, to take from him what is of real use to him merely because it 




may be of equal or of more use to us, or to indulge, in this manner, at 
the expense of other people, the natural preference which every man 
has for his own happiness above that of other people, is what no im- 
partial spectator can go along with. Every man is, no doubt, by 
nature, first and principally recommended to his own care; and as he 
is fitter to take care of himself than of any other person, it is fit and 
right that it should be so. Every man, therefore, is much more deeply 
interested in whatever immediately concerns himself, than in what con- 
cerns any other man : and to hear, perhaps, of the death of another 
person, with whom we have no particular connexion, will give us less 
concern, will spoil our stomach or break our rest much less, than a 
very insignificant disaster which has befallen ourselves. But though 
the ruin of our neighbour may affect us much less than a very small 
misfortune of our own, we must not ruin him to prevent that small mis- 
fortune, nor even to prevent our own ruin. We must, here, as in all 
other cases, view ourselves not so much according to that light in 
which we may naturally appear to ourselves, as according to tha^ in 
which we naturally appear to others. Though every man may, accord- 
ing to the proverb, be the whole world to himself, to the rest of man- 
kind he is a most insignificant part of it. Though his own happiness 
may be of more importance to him than that of all the world besides, 
to every other person it is of no more consequence than that of any 
other man. Though it may be true, therefore, that every individual, 
in his own breast, naturally prefers himself to all mankind, yet he 
dares not look mankind in the face, and avow that he acts according 
to this principle. He feels that in this preference they can never go 
along with him, and that how natural soever it may be to him, it must 
always appear excessive and extravagant to them. When he views 
himself in the light in which he is conscious that others will view him, 
he sees that to them he is but one of the multitude in no respect better 
than any other in it. If he would act so as that the impartial spectator 
may enter into the principles of his conduct, which is what of all things 
he has the greatest desire to do, he must, upon this, as upon all other 
occasions, humble the arrogance of his self-love, and bring it down to 
something which other men can go along with. They will indulge it 
so far as to allow him to be more anxious about, and to pursue with 
more earnest assiduity, his own happiness than that of any other per- 
son. Thus far, whenever they place themselves in his situation, they 
will readily go along with him. In the race for wealth, for honours, 
and preferments, he may run as hard as he can, and strain every nerve 
and every muscle, in order to outstrip all his competitors. But if he 
should justle, or throw down any of them, the indulgence of the spec- 
tators is entirely at an end. It is a violation of fair play, which they 
cannot admit of. This man is to them, in every respect, as good as 
he : they do not enter into that self-love by which he prefers himself so 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 77 

much to this other, and cannot go along with the motive from which 
he hurt him. They readily, therefore, sympathize with the natural 
resentment of the injured, and the offender becomes the object of their 
hatred and indignation. He is sensible that he becomes so, and feels 
that those sentiments are ready to burst out against him« 

As the greater and more irreparable the evil that is done, the resent- 
ment of the sufferer runs naturally the higher j so does likewise the 
sympathetic indignation of the spectator, as well as the sense of guilt 
in the agent. Death is the greatest evil which one man can inflict 
upon another, and excites the highest degree of resentment in those 
who are immediately connected with the slain. Murder, therefore, is 
the most atrocious of all crimes which affect individuals only, in the 
sight both of mankind, and of the person who has committed it. To 
be deprived of that which we are possessed of, is a greater evil than to 
be disappointed of what we have only the expectation. Breach of pro- 
perty, therefore, theft and robbery, which take from us what we are 
possessed of, are greater crimes than breach of contract, which only 
disappoints us of what we expected. The most sacred laws of justice, 
therefore, those whose violation seems to call loudest for vengeance 
and punishment, are the laws which guard the life and person of our 
neighbour ; the next are those which guard his property and posses- 
sions ; and last of all come those which guard what are called his per- 
sonal rights, or what is due to him from the promises of others. 

The violator of the more sacred laws of justice can never reflect on 
the sentiments which mankind must entertain with regard to him, with- 
out seeing all the agonies of shame, and horror, and consternation. 
When his passion is gratified, and he begins coolly to reflect on his past 
conduct, he can enter into none of the motives which influenced it. 
They appear now as detestable to him as they did always to other 
people. By sympathizing with the hatred and abhorrence which other 
men must entertain for him, he becomes in some measure the object 
of his own hatred and abhorrence. The situation of the person, who 
suffered by his injustice, now czdls upon his pity. He is grieved at the 
thought of it ; regrets the unhappy effects of his own conduct, and feels 
at the same time that they have rendered him the proper object of the 
resentment and indignation of mankind, and of what is tJhe natural 
consequence of resentment, vengeance and punishment The thought 
of this perpetually haunts him, and fills him with terror and amaze- 
ment He dares no longer look society in the face, but imagines him- 
self as it were rejected, and thrown out from the affections of all 
mankind. He cannot hope for the consolation of sympathy in this his 
greatest and most dreadful distress. The remembrance of his crimes 
has shut out all fellow-feeling with him from the hearts of his fellow- 
CTeatures. The sentiments which they entertain with regard to him, 
axe the very thing which he is most afraid oL Every thing seems hos- 


tile, and he would be glad to fly to some inhospitable desert, where he 
might never more behold the face of a human creature, nor read in the 
countenance of mankind the condemnation of his crimes. But solitude 
is still more dreadful than society. His own thoughts can present him 
with nothing but what is black, unfortunate, and disastrous, the melan- 
choly forebodings of incomprehensible misery and ruin. The horror 
of solitude drives him back into society, and he comes again into the 
presence of mankind, astonished to appear before them, loaded with 
shame and distracted with fear, in order to suppjicate some little pro- 
tection from the countenance of those very judges, who he knows have 
already all unanimously condemned him. Such is the nature of that 
sentiment, which is properly called remorse ; of all the sentiments 
which can enter the human heart the most dreadful. It is made up of 
shame from the sense of the impropriety of past conduct ; of grief for 
the effects of it ; of pity for those who suffer by it ; and of the dread 
and terror of punishment from the consciousness of the justly provoked 
resentment of all rational creatures; 

The opposite behaviour naturally inspires the opposite sentiment 
The man who, not from frivolous fancy, but from proper motives, has 
performed a generous action, when he looks forward to those whom he 
has served, feels himself to be the natural object of their love and 
gratitude, and, by sympathy with them, of the esteem and appro- 
bation of all mankind. And when he looks backward to the motive 
from which he acted, and surveys it in the light in which the indifferent 
spectator will survey it, he still continues to enter into it, and applauds 
himself by sympathy with the approbation of this supposed impartial 
judge. In both these points of view his own conduct appears to him 
every way agreeable. His mind, at the thought of it, is filled with 
cheerfulness, serenity, and composure. He is in friendship and har- 
mony with all mankind, and looks upon his fellow-creatures with 
confidence and benevolent satisfaction, secure that he has rendered 
himself worthy of their most favourable regards. In the combination* 
of all these sentiments consists the consciousness of merit, or of de- 
served reward. 

Chap. III.— (y the Utility of this Constitution of Nature. 

It is thus that man, who can subsist only in society, was fitted by 
nature to that situation for which he was made. All the members of 
human society stand in need of each others assistance, and are likewise 
exposed to mutual injuries. Where the necessary assistance is reci- 
procally afforded from love, from gratitude, from friendship, and es- 
teem, the society flourishes and is happy. All the different members 
of it are bound together by the agreeable bands of love and aflfection. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 79 

and are, as it were, thereby drawn to one common centre of mutual 
good offices. 

But though the necessary assistance should not be afforded from 
such generous and disinterested motives, though among the different 
members of the society there should be no mutual love and affection, 
the society, though less happy and agreeable, will not necessarily be 
dissolved. Society may subsist among different men, as among dif- 
ferent merchants, from a sense of its utility, without any mutual love 
or affection ; and though no man in it should owe any obligation, or be 
bound in gratitude to any .'ther, it -may still be upheld by a mercenary 
exchange of good offices according to an agreed valuation. 

Society, however, cannot subsist among those who are at all times 
ready to hurt and injure one another. The moment that injury begins, 
the moment that mutual resentment and animosity take place, all the 
bands of it are broke asunder, and the different members of which it 
consisted are, as it were, dissipated and scattered abroad by the vio- 
lence and opposition of their discordant affections. If there is any 
society among robbers and murderers, they must at least, according to 
the trite observation, abstain from robbing and murdering one another. 
Beneficence, therefore, is less essential to the existence of society than • 
justice. Society may subsist, though not in the most comfortable state, 
without beneficence ; but the prevalence of injustice must utterly de- 
stroy it 

Though Nature, therefore, exhorts mankind to acts of beneficence, 
by the pleasing consciousness of deserved reward, she has not thought 
it necessary to guard and enforce the practice of it by the terrors of 
merited punishment in case it should be neglected. It is the ornament 
which embellishes, not the foundation which supports, the building, and 
which it was, therefore, sufficient to recommend, but by no means 
necessary to impose. Justice, on the contrary, is the main pillar that 
upholds the whole edifice. If it is removed, the great, the immense 
fabric of human society, that fabric which to raise and support seems in 
this world, if I may say so, to have been the peculiar and darling care 
of Nature, must in a moment crumble into atoms. In order to enforce 
the observation of justice, therefore, Nature has implanted in the 
human breast that consciousness of ill-desert, those terrors of merited 
punishment which attend upon its violation, as the great safeguards of 
the association of mankind, to protect the weak, to curb the violent, 
and to chastise the guilty. Men, though naturally sympathetic, feel so 
little for another, with whom they have no particular connexion, in 
comparison of what they feel for themselves ; the misery of one, who 
is merely their fellow-<:reature, is of so little importance to them in 
comparison even of a small conveniency of their own ; they have it so 
much in their power to hurt him, and may have so many temptations 
to do so, that if this principle did not stand up within them in his de- 


fence, and overawe them into a respect for his innocence, they would, 
like wild beasts, be at all times ready to fly upon him ; and a man would 
enter an assembly of men as he enters a den of lions. 

In every part of the universe we observe means adjusted with the 
nicest artifice to the ends which they are intended to produce ; and in 
the mechanism of a plant, or animal body, admire how every thing is 
contrived for advancing the two great purposes of nature, the support 
of the individual, and the propagation of the species. But in these, 
and in all such objects, we still distinguish the efficient from the final 
cause of their several motions and organizations. The digestion of 
the food, the circulation of the blood, and the secretion of the several 
juices which are drawn from it, are operations all of them necessary 
for the great purposes of animal life. Yet we never endeavour to ac- 
count for them from those purposes as from their efficient causes, nor 
imagine that the blood circulates, or that the food digests of its own 
accord, and with a view or intention to the purposes of circulation or 
digestion. The wheels of the watch are all admirably adjusted to the 

'f — end for which it was made, the pointing of the hour. All their various 
motions conspire in the nicest manner to produce this effect If they 
were endowed with a desire and intention to produce it, they could not 
do it better. Yet we never ascribe any such desire or intention to them, 
Jhut to the watch-maker, and we know that they are put into motion by 
a spring, which intends the effect it produces as little as they do. But 
though, in accounting for the operations of bodies, we never fail to dis- 
tinguish in this manner the efficient from the final cause, in accounting 
j for those of the mind we are very apt to confound these tWo different 
things with one another. When by natural principles we are led to 
advance those ends which a refined and enlightened reason would re- 
commend to us, we are very apt to impute to that reason, as to their 
efficient cause, the sentiments and actions by which we advance those 
ends, and to imagine that to be the wisdom of man, which in reality is 
the wisdom of God. Upon a superficial view, this cause seems suffi- 
cient to produce the effects which are ascribed to it ; and the system of 
human nature seems to be more simple and agreeable when all its dif- 
ferent ^operations are thus deduced from a single principle. 

As society cannot subsist unless the laws of justice are tolerably ob- 
served, as no social intercourse can take place among men who do not 

' generally abstain from injuring one another ; the consideration of this 
necessity, it has been thought, was the ground upon which we approved 
of the enforcement of the laws of justice by the punishment of those 
who violated them. Man, it has been said, has a natural love for 
society, and desires that the union of mankind should be preserved for 
its own sake, and though he himself was to derive no benefit from it 
The orderly and flourishing state of society is agreeable to him, and he 
takes delight in contemplating it Its disorder and confusion, on the 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 8i 

contrary, is Ae object of his aversion, and he is chagrined at whatever 
tends to produce it He is sensible too that his own interest is con- 
nected with the prosperity of society, and that the happiness, perhaps 
the preservation of his existence, depends upon its preservation. Upon 
every account, therefore, he has an abhorrence at whatever can tend 
to destroy society, and is wiUing to make use of every means, which 
can hinder so hated and so dreadful an event Injustice necessarily 
tends to destroy it. Every appearance of injustice, therefore, alarms 
him, and he runs (if I may say so), to stop the progress of what, if 
allowed to go on, would quickly put an end to every thing that is dear 
to him. If he cannot restrain it by gentle and fair means, he must bear 
it down by force and violence, and at any rate must put a stop to its 
further progress. Hence it is, they say, that he often approves of the 
enforcement of the laws of justice even by the capital punishment of 
those who violate them. The disturber of the public peace is hereby 
removed out of the world, and others are terrified by his fate from 
imitating his example. 

Such is the account commonly given of our approbation of the 
punishment of injustice. And so far this account is undoubtedly true, 
that we frequently have occasion to confirm our natural sense of the 
propriety and fitness of punishment, by reflecting how necessary it is 
for preserving the order of society. When the guilty is about to suffer 
that just retaliation, which the natural indignation of mankind tells 
them is due to his crimes ; when the insolence of his injustice is broken 
and humbled by the terror of his approaching punislxment ; when he 
ceases to be an object of fear, with the generous and humane he begins 
to be an object of pity. The thought of what he is about te suffer 
extinguishes their resentment for the sufferings of others to which he 
has given occasion. They are disposed to pardon and forgive him, 
and to save him from that punishment, which in all their cool hours 
they had considered as the retribution due to such crimes. Here, 
therefore, they have occasion to call to their assistance the consider- 
ation of the general interest of society. They counterbalance the im- 
pulse of this weak and partial humanity by the dictates of a humanity 
that is more generous and comprehensive. They reflect that mercy to 
the guilty is cruelty to the innocent, and oppose to the emotions of 
compassion which they feel for a particular person, a more enlarged 
compassion which they feel for mankind. 

Sometimes too we have occasion to defend the propriety of observ- 
ing the general rules of justice by the consideration of their necessity 
to the support of society. We frequently hear the young and the 
licentious ridiculing the most sacred rules of morality, and professing, 
sometimes from the corruption, but more frequently from the vanity of 
their hearts, the most abominable maxims of conduct Our indigna- 
tion rouses, and we are eager to refute and expose such detestable 


principles. But though it is their intrinsic hateftdness and detestable 
ness, which originally inflames us against them, we are unwilling to 
assign this as the sole reason why we condemn them, or to pretend that 
it is merely because we ourselves hate and detest them. The reason, 
we think, would not appear to be conclusive. Yet why should it not,^ 
if we hate and detest them because they are the natural and proper 
objects of hatred and detestation ? But when they are asked why we 
should not act in such or such a manner, the very question seems to 
suppose that, to those who ask it, this manner of acting does not 
appear to be for its own sake the natural and proper object of those 
sentiments. We must show them, therefore, that it ought to be so for 
the sake of something else. Upon this account we generally cast 
about for other arguments, and the consideration which first occurs to 
us, is the disorder and confusion of society which would result from 
the universal prevalence of such practices. We seldom fail, therefore, 
to insist upon this topic. 

But though it commonly requires no great discernment to see the 
destructive tendency of all licentious practices to the welfare of society, 
it is seldom this consideration which first animates us against them. 
All men, even the most stupid and unthinking, abhor fraud, perfidy 
and injustice, and delight to see them punished. But few men have 
reflected upon the necessity of justice to the existence of society, how 
obvious soever that necessity may appear to be. 

That it is not a regard to the preservation of society, which origin- 
ally interests us in the punishment of crimes committed against indivi- 
duals, may be demonstrated by many obvious considerations. The 
concern which we take in the fortune and happiness of individuals 
does not, in common cases, arise from that which we take in the 
fortune and happiness of society. We are no more concerned for the 
destruction or loss of a single man, because this man is a member or 
part of society, and because we should be concerned for the destruc- 
tion of society, than we are concerned for the loss of a single guinea, 
because this guinea is a part of a thousand guineas, and because we 
should be concerned for the loss of the whole sum. In neither case 
does our regard for the individuals arise from our regard for the multi- 
tude : but in both cases our regard for the multitude is compounded 
and made up of the particular regards which we feel for the different 
individuals of which it is composed. As when a small sum is unjustly 
taken from us, we do not so much prosecute the injury from a regard 
to the preservation of our whole fortune, as from a regard to that par- 
ticular sum which we have lost ; so when a single man is injured or 
destroyed, we demand the punishment of the wroi^ that has been done 
to him, not so much from a concern for the general interest of society, 
as from a concern for that very individual who has been injured. It is 
to be observed, however, that this concern does not necessarily include 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 83 

in it any degree of those exquisite sentiments which are commonly 
called love, esteem, and affection, and by which we distinguish our 
particular friends and acquaintance. The concern which is requisite 
for this, is no more than the general fellow-feeling which we have with 
every man merely because he is our fellow-creature. We enter into 
the resentment even of an odious person, when he is injured by those 
to whom he has given no provocation. Our disapprobation of his 
ordinary character and conduct does not in this case altogether prevent 
our fellow-feeling with his natural indignation ; though with those who 
are not either extremely candid, or who have not been accustomed to 
correct and regulate their natural sentiments by general rules, it is 
very apt to damp it 

Upon some occasions, indeed, we both punish and approve of punish- 
ment, merely from a view to the general interest of society, which, we 
imagine, cannot otherwise be secured. Of this kind are all the punish- 
ments inflicted for breaches of what is called either civil police, or 
military discipline. Such crimes do not immediately or directly hurt 
any particular person ; but their remote consequences, it is supposed, 
do produce, or might produce, either a considerable inconveniency, or 
a great disorder in the society. A sentinel, for example, who falls asleep 
upon his watch, suffers death by the laws of war, because such care- 
lessness might endanger the whole army. This severity may, upon 
many occasions, appear necessary, and, for that reason, just and proper. 
When the preservation of an individual is inconsistent with the safety 
of a multitude, nothing can be more just than that the many should be 
preferred to the one. Yet this punishment, how necessary soever, 
always appears to be excessively severe. The natural atrocity of the 
crime seems to be so little, and the punishment so great, that it is with 
great difficulty that our heart can reconcile itself to it. Though such 
carelessness appears very blamable, yet the thought of this crime does 
not naturally excite any such resentment as would prompt us to take 
such dreadful revenge. A man of humanity must recollect himself, 
must make an effort, and exert his whole firmness and resolution, 
before he can bring himself either to inflict it, or to go along with it 
when it is inflicted by others. It is not, however, in this manner, that 
he looks upon the just punishment of an ungrateful murderer or parri- 
cide. His heart, in this case, applauds with ardour, and even with 
transport, the just retaliation which seems due to such detestable 
crimes, and which, if, by any accident, they should happen to escape, 
he would be highly enraged and disappointed. The very different 
sentiments with which the spectator views those different punishments, 
is a proof that his approbation of the one is far from bein^ founded 
upon the same principles with that of the other. He looks upon the 
sentinel as an unfortunate victim, who, indeed, must, and ought to be, 
devoted to the safety of numbers, but whom still, in his heart, he would 


principles. But thoiigh it is their intrinsic hateiiilness and detesta' 
ness, which originally inflames us against them, we are unwilling 
assign this as the sole reason why we condemn them, or to pretend \ 
it is merely because we ourselves hate and detest them. The rea 
we think, would not appear to be conclusive. Yet why should it 
if we hate and detest them because they are the natural and pr 
objects of hatred and detestation? But when they are asked wh 
should not act in such or such a manner, the very question seen 
suppose that, to those who ask it, this manner <^ acting doe 
appear to be for its own sake the natural and proper object of 
sentiments. We must show them, therefore, that it ought to be 
the sake of something else. Upon this account we gencrall} 
about for other arguments, and the consideration which first occ 
us, is the disorder and confusion of society which would result 
the universal prev*alence of sudi practices. We seldom £aul, the 
to insist u)>on this topic 

But though it commonly requires no great discoimient to & 
destructi\n? tendency of all licentious practices to the welfare of s 
it is seldom this consideration which first animates ns against 
All men, ex'en the most stupid and unthinkiiig, abhor £rand, 
and injustice, and delight to see th^n punished. But few mt 
reflected upon the necessity of justice to die existmce of socio' 
obvious soe\^r that necessity may appear to be. 

ThAt it is not a regard to the pies«vation of sodety, which 
ally intett^sts us in the punishm^it of crimes ommitted agains 
tlu;^l», may be demonstrated by many obvioiis consideratior 
t^^nv^m which we takft in the foctune and hajqpiness of incV 
doe* not* in c\\mmoa cases^ arise from diat iHiidi w« take 
f\Ml\n\e j^nd h^piMness of ssodely* Wc are no more ooncemec' 
de*tn\etivxn cvr Kvi^ of a sin^ man^ because this man is a mc 
|>Att of *\viety> and bcc4iii$« we sboold be concuned for the 
tion \>l' ^viety, th^n we ai>e concened for die loss of a aii||Ele 
be^N^u^e thi.^ |«\tinea i$ a part of a tiKwisawi i^ainea:^ a 

tU^t <\m kyt^,ki\\ k^ (be Uuii^fiiiuJs ar ^ 

liuli* t b4»i in Mh caiet air tr^wti ^. ... t. .. 

M\x\ n^^de Mp %\i \h^ tiiHip||»i rvgaid^ ^ilAcii m% t 

irtvUxuk^^* ' "^ '- ' =' ^^-^ 1 ^^j^g, 
T?*Wi^ fh^ .c iif 

— ut..^ i i.^ -. : 


I, at 
n of 
: the 
e or 

ice is 
r the 
■it of 

!i of 




I' they 
;dy ex- 


be glad to save ; and he is only sorry, that the interest of the many 
should oppose it But if the murderer should escape from punishment, 
it would excite his highest indignation, and he would call upon God to 
avenge, in another world, that crime which the injustice of mankind 
had neglected to chastise upon earth. 

For it well deserves to be taken notice of, that we are so far from 
imagining that injustice ought to be punished in this hfe, merely on 
account of the order of society, which cannot otherwise be maintained, 
that Nature teaches us to hope, and religion, we suppose, authorises 
us to expect, that it will be punished, even in a life to come. Our 
sense of its ill desert pursues it, if I may say so, even beyond the grave, 
though the example of its punishment there cannot serve to deter the 
rest of mankind, who see it not,, who know it not, from being guilty of 
the like practices here. The justice of God, however, we think, still 
requires, that he should hereafter avenge the injuries of the widow and 
the fatherless, who are here so often insulted with impunity. In every 
religion, and in every superstition that the world has ever beheld, 
accordingly, there has been a Tartarus as well as an Elysium ; a place 
provided for the punishment of the wicked, as well as one for the 
reward of the just. 

Sect. III. — Of the Influence of Fortune upon the Senti- 
ments OF Mankind, with Regard to the Merit or Demerit 
OF THEIR Actions. 

Introduction. — Whatever praise or blame can be due to any action, 
must belong either, first, to the intention or affection of the heart, from 
which it proceeds, or, secondly, to the external action or movenaent of 
the body, which this affection gives occasion to ; or, lastly, to the good 
or bad consequences, which actually, and in fact, proceed from it 
These three different things constitute the whole nature and circum- 
stances of the action, and must be the foundation of whatever quality 
can belong to it. 

That the two last of these three circumstances cannot be the founda- 
tion of any praise or blame, is abundantly evident ; nor has the contrary 
ever been asserted by any body. The external action or movement of 
the body is often the same in the most innocent and in the most blam- 
able actions. He who shoots a bird, and he who shoots a man, both of 
them perform the same external movement : each of them draws the 
trigger of a gun. The consequences which actually, and in fact, hap- 
pen to proceed from any action, are, if possible, still more indifferent 
either to praise or blame, than even the external movement of the body. 
As they depend, not upon the agent, but upon fortune, they cannot be 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 85 

the proper foundation for any sentiment, of which his character and 
conduct are the objects. 

The only consequences for which he can be answerable, or by which 
he can deserve either approbation or disapprobation of any kind, are 
those which were some way or other intended, or those which, at 
least, show some agreeable or disagreeable quality in the intention of 
the heart, from which he acted. To the intention or affection of the 
heart, therefore, to the propriety or impropriety, to the beneficence or 
hurtfulness of the design, all praise or blame, all approbation or disap- 
probation, of any kind, which can justly be bestowed upon any action 
must ultimately belong. 

When this maxim is thuS proposed, in abstract and general terms, 
there is nobody who does not agree to it. Its self-evident justice is 
acknowledged by all the world, and there is not a dissenting voice 
among all mankind. Every body allows, that how different soever the 
accidental, the unintended and unforeseen consequences of different 
actions, yet, if the intentions or affections from which they arose were, 
on the one hand, equally proper and equally beneficent, or, on the 
other, equally improper and equally malevolent, the merit or demerit of 
the actions is still the same, and the agent is equally the suitable object 
either of gratitude or of resentment. 

But how well soever we may seem to be persuaded of the truth of 
this equitable maxim, when we consider it after this manner, in abstract, 
yet when we come to particular cases, the actual consequences which y 
happen to proceed from any action, have a very great effect upon our 
sentiments concerning its merit or demerit, and almost always either 
enhance or diminish our sense of both. Scarce, in any one instance, 
perhaps, will our sentiments be found, after examination, to be entirely 
regulated by this rule, which we all acknowledge ought entirely to regu- 
late them. 

This irregularity of sentiment, which every body feels, which scarce 
any body is sufficiently aware of, and which nobody is willing to acknow- 
ledge, I proceed now to explain ; and I shall consider, first, the cause 
which gives occasion to it, or the mechanism by which Nature produces 
it ; secondly, the extent of its influence ; and, last of all, the end which 
it answers, or the purpose which the Author of nature seems to have 
intended by it 


Chap. 1,^0/ the Causes of this Influence of Fortune, 

The causes of pain and pleasure, whatever they are, or however they 
operate, seem to be the objects, which, in all animals, immediately ex- 
cite those two passions of gratitude and resentment. They are excited 
by inanimated, as well as by animated objects. We are angry, for a 


moment, even at tlie stone that hurts us. A child beats it,a dog barks 
at it, a choleric man is apt to curse it. The least reflection, indeed, 
corrects this sentiment, and we soon becwae ^nsible, that what has no 
feeling is a very improper object of revenge. When the mischief, how- 
ever, is very great, the object which caused it becomes disagreeable to 
us ever after, and we take pleasure to bum or destroy it. We should 
treat, in this manner, the instrument which had accidentally been the 
cause of the death of a friend, and we should often think ourselve.s 
-guilty of a sort of inhumanity, if we neglected to vent this absurd sort 
of vengeance upon it. , 

We conceive, in the same manner, a sort of gratitude for those inan- 
imated objects, which have been the causes of great or frequent plea- 
sure to us. The sailor, who, as soon as he got ashore, should mend his 
fire with the plank upon which he had just escaped from a shipwreck, 
would seem to be guilty of an unnatural action. We should expect 
that he would rather preserve it with care and affection, as a monument 
that was, in some measure, dear to him. A man grows fond of a snuflf- 
box, of a pen-knife, of a staff which he has long made use of, and con- 
ceives something like a real love and affection for them. If he breaks 
or loses them, he is vexed out of all proportion to the value of the 
damage. The house which we have long lived in, the tree, whose ver- 
dure and shade we have long enjoyed, are both looked upon with a sort 
of respect that seems due to such benefactors. The decay of the one, 
or the ruin of the other, affects us with a kind of melancholy, though 
we should sustain no loss by it The Dryads and the Lares of the 
ancients, a sort of genii of trees and houses, were probably first sug- 
gested by this sort pf affection, which the authors of those superstitions 
felt for such objects, and which seemed unreasonable, if there was 
nothing animated about them. 

But, before any thing can be the proper object of gratitude or resent- 
ment, it must not only be the cause of pleasure or pain, it must like- 
wise be capable of feeling them. Without this otiber quality, those 
passions cannot vent themselves with any sort of satisfaction upon it. 
As they are excited by the causes of pleasure and pain, so their gratifi- 
cation consists in retaliating those sensations upon what gave occasion 
to them ; which it is to no purpose to attempt upon what has no sensi- 
bility. Animals, therefore, are less improper objects of jgratitude and 
resentment than animated objects. The dog that bites, the ox that 
gores, are both of them punished. If -they have been the causes of the 
death of any person, neither the public, nor the relations of the slain, 
can be satisfied, unless they are put to death in their turn : nor is this 
merely for the security of the living, but, in some measure, to revenge 
the injury of the dead. Those animals, on the contrary, that have been 
remarkably serviceable to their masters, become the objects of a very- 
lively gratitude. We are shocked at the brut?dity of that officer, mea- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments, 87 

tioned in the Turkish Spy, who stabbed the horse that had carried him 
across an arm of the sea, lest that animal should afterwards distinguish 
some other person by a similar adventure. 

But, though animals are not only the causes of pleasure and pain, 
but are also capable of feeling those sensations, they are still far from 
being complete and perfect objects, either of gratitude or resentment ; 
and those passions still feel, that there is something wanting to their 
entire gratification. What gratitude chiefly desires, is not only to make 
the benefactor feel pleasure in his turn, but to make him conscious that 
he meets with this reward on account of his past conduct, to make him 
pleased with that conduct, and to satisfy him that the person upon 
whom he bestowed his good offices was not unworthy of them. "What 
most of all charms us in our benefactor, is the concord between his 
sentiments and our own, with regard to what interests us so nearly as 
the worth of our own character, and the esteem that is due to us. We 
are delighted to find a person who values us as we value ourselves, and 
distinguishes us from the rest of mankind, with an attention not unlike 
that with which we distinguish ourselves. To maintain in him these 
agreeable and flattering sentiments, is one of the chief ends proposed 
by the returns we are disposed to make to him. A generous mind often 
disdains the interested thought of extorting new favours from its bene- 
factor, by what may be called the importunities of its gratitude. But 
to preserve and to increase his esteem, is an interest which the greatest 
mind does not think unworthy of its attention. And this is the founda- 
tion of what I formerly observed, and when we cannot enter into the 
motives of our benefactor, when his conduct and character appear un- 
worthy of our approbation, let his services, have been ever so great, our 
gratitude is always sensibly diminished. We are less flattered by the 
distinction ; and to preserve the esteem of so weak, or so worthless a 
patron, seems to be an object which does not deserve to be pursued for 
its own sake. 

The object, on the contrary, which resentment is. chiefly intent upon, 
is not so much to make our enemy feel pain in his turn, as to make him 
conscious that he feels it upon account of his past conduct, to make him 
repent of that conduct, and to make him sensible, that the person whom 
he injured did not deserve to be treated in that manner. What chiefly 
enrages us against the mail who injures or insults us, is the little account 
which he seems to make of us, the unreasonable preference which he 
gives to himself above us, and that absurd self-love, by which he seems 
to imagine, that other people may be sacrificed at any time, to his con- 
veniency or his humour. The glaring impropriety of his conduct, the 
gross insolence and injustice which it seems to involve in it, often shock 
and exasperate us more than all the mischief which we have suffered. 
To bring him back to a more just sense of what is due to other people, 
to make him sensible of what he owes us, and of the wrong that he has 


done to us, is frequently the principal end proposed in our revenge, 
which is always imperfect when it cannot acomplish this. When our 
enemy appears to have done us no injury, when we are sensible that he 
acted quite properly, that, in his situation, we should have done the 
same thing, and that we deserved from him all the mischief we met 
with ; in that case, if we have the least spark either of candour or jus- 
tice, we can entertain no sort of resentment 

Before any thing, therefore, can be the complete and proper object, 
either of gratitude or resentment, it must possess three different quali- 
fications. First, it must be the cause of pleasure in the one case, and 
of pain in the other. Secondly, it must be capable of feeUng those 
sensations. And, thirdly, it must not only have produced those sensa- 
tions, but it must have produced them from design, and from a design 
that is approved of in the one case, and disapproved of in the other. 
It is by the first qualification, that any object is capable of exciting 
those passions : it is by the second, that it is in any respect capable of 
gratifying them : the third qualification is not only necessary for their 
complete satisfaction, but as it gives a pleasure or pain that is both ex- 
quisite and peculiar, it is likewise an additional exciting cause of those 

As what gives pleasure or pain, therefore, either in one way or 
another, is the sole exciting cause of gratitude and resentment ; though 
the intentions of any person should be ever so proper and beneficent, 
on the one hand, or ever so improper and malevolent on the other ; 
yet, if he has failed in producing either the good or the evil which he 
intended, as one of the exciting causes is wanting in both cases, less 
gratitude seems due to him in the one, and less resentment in the other. 
And, on the contrary, though in the intentions of any person, there 
was either no laudable degree of benevolence on the one hand, or no 
blamable degree of malice on the other ; yet, if his actions should 
produce either great good or great evil, as one of the exciting causes 
takes place upon both these occasions, some gratitude is apt to arise 
towards him in the one, and some resentment in the other. A shadow 
of merit seems to fall upon him in the first, a shadow of demerit in the 
second. And, as the consequences of actions are altogether under the 
empire of Fortune, hence arises her influence upon the sentiments of 
mankind with regard to merit and demerit 

Chap. U.— Of the Extent of this Influence of Fortune. 

The effect of this influence of fortune is, first, to diminish our sense of 

the merit or demerit of those actions which arose from the most laud- 

V able or blamable intentions, when they fail of producing their proposed 

effects : and^ secondly, to increase our sense of the merit or demerit of 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 39 

actions, beyond what is due to the motives. or affections from which 
they proceed, when they accidentally give occasion either to extra- 
ordinary pleasure or pain. 

I. First, I say, though the intentions of any person should be ever 
so proper and beneficent, on the one hand, or ever so improper and 
malevolent, on the other, yet, if they fail in producing their effects, his 
merit seems imperfect in the one case, and his demerit incomplete in 
the other. Nor is this irregularity of sentiment felt only by those who 
are inmiediately affected by the consequence of any action. It is felt, 
in some measure, even by the impartial spectator. The man who 
solicits an office for another, without obtaining it, is regarded as his 
friend, and seems to deserve his love and affection. But the man who 
not only solicits, but procures it, is more peculiarly considered as his 
patron and benefactor, and is entitled to his respect and gratitude. 
The person obliged, we are apt to think, may, with some justice, 
imagine himself on a level with the first . but we cannot enter into his 
sentiments, if he does not feel himself inferior to the second. It is 
common indeed to say, that we are equally obliged to the man who has 
endeavoured to serve, as to him who actually did so. It is the speech 
which we constantly make upon every unsuccessful attempt of this 
kind ; but which, like all other fine speeches, must be understood with 
a grain of allowance. The sentiments which a man of generosity 
entertains for the friend who fails, may often indeed be nearly the same 
with those which he conceives for him who succeeds : and the more 
generous he is, the more nearly will those sentiments approach to an 
exact level With the truly generous, to be beloved, to be esteemed 
by those whom they themselves think worthy of esteem, gives more 
pleasure, and thereby excites more gratitude, than all the advantages 
which they can ever expect from those sentiments. When they lose 
those advantages therefore, they seem to lose but a trifle, which is 
scarce worth regarding. They still however lose something. Their 
pleasure therefore, and consequently their gratitude, is not perfectly 
complete : and accordingly if, between the friend who fails and the friend 
who succeeds, all other circumstances are equal, there will, even in the 
noblest and best mind, be some little difference of affection in favour of 
him who succeeds. Nay, so unjust are mankind in this respect, that 
though the intended benefit should be procured, yet if it is not pro- 
cured by the means of a particular benefactor, they are apt to think 
that less gratitude is due to the man, who with the best intentions in 
the world could do no more than help it a little forward. As their 
gratitude is in this case divided among the different persons who con- 
tributed to their pleasure, a smaller share of it seems due to any one. 
Such a person, we hear men commonly say, intended no doubt to serve 
us ; and we really believe exerted himself to the utmost of his abilities 
for that purpose. We are not, however, obliged to him for this benefit; 



since, had it not been for the concurrence of others, all that he could 
have done would never have brought it about. This consideration, 
they imagine, should, even in the eyes of the impartial spectator, 
diminish the debt which they owe to him. The person himself who has 
unsuccessfully endeavoured to confer a benefit, has by no means the 
same dependency upon the gratitude of the man whom he meant to 
oblige, nor the same sense of his own merit towards him, which he 
would have had in the case of success. 

Even the merit of talents and abilities which some accident has 
hindered from producing their effects, seems in some measure imper- 
fect, even to those who are fully convinced of their capacity ta produce 
them. The general who has been hindered by the envy of ministers 
from gaining some great advantage over the enemies of his country, 
regrets the loss of the opportunity for ever after. Nor is it only upon 
account of the public that he regrets it He laments that he was 
hindered from performing an action which would have added a new 
lustre to his character in his own eyes, as Well as in those of every 
other person. It satisfies neither himself nor others to reflect that the 
plan or design was all that depended on him, that no greater capacity 
was required to execute it than what was necessary to concert it : that 
he was allowed to be every way capable of executing it, and that had 
he been permitted to go on, success was infallible. He still did not 
execute it ; and though he might deserve all the approbation which is 
due to a magnanimous and great design, he still wanted the actual 
merit of having performed a great action. To take the management of 
any affair of public concern from the man who has almost brought it 
to a conclusion, is regarded as the most invidious injustice. As he had 
done so much, he should, we think, have been allowed to acquire the 
complete merit of putting an end to it It was objected to Pompey, 
that he came in upon the victories of Lucullus, and gathered those 
laurels which were due to the fortune and valotfr of another. The 
glory of Lucullus, it seems, was less complete even in the opinion of 
his own friends, when he was not permitted to finish that conquest 
which his conduct and courage had put in the power of almost any 
man to finish. It mortifies an architect when his plans are either 
not executed at all, or when they are so far altered as to spoil the 
effect of the building. The plan, however, is all that depends upon 
the architect The whole of his genius is, to good judges, as com- 
pletely discovered in that as in the actual execution. But a plan does 
not, even to the most intelligent, give the same pleasure as a noble 
and magnificent building. They may discover as much both of taste 
and genius in the one as in the other. But their effects are still 
vastly different, and the amusement derived from the first, never 
approaches to the wonder and admiration which are sometimes excited 
by the second We may believe of many men, that their talents are 

smith's theory of moral sejJtiments. 91 

superior to those of Caesar and Alexander; and that in the same 
situations they would perform still greater actions. In the mean 
time, however, we do not behold them with that astonishment and 
admiration with which those two heroes have been regarded in all 
ages and nations. The calm judgments of the mind may approve of 
them more, but they want the splendour of great actions to dazzle and 
transport it The superiority of virtues and talents has not, even upon 
those who acknowledge that superiority, the same effect with the 
superiority of achievements. 

As the merit of an unsuccessful attempt to do good seems thus, 
in the eyes of ungrateful mankind, to be diminished by the miscarriage, 
so does likewise the demerit of an unsuccessful attempt to do eviL 
The design to commit a crime, how clearly soever it may be proved, is 
scarce ever punished with the same severity as the actual commission 
of it The case of treason is perhaps the only exception. That crime 
immediately affecting the being of the government itself, the govern- 
ment is naturally more jealous of it than of any other. In the punish- 
ment of treason, the sovereign resents the injuries .which are immedi- 
ately done to himself ; in the punishment of 'other crimes he resents 
those which are done to other men. It is bis own resentment w;hich he 
indulges in the one case ; it is that of his subjects which by sympathy 
he enters into in the other. In the first case, therefore, as he judges 
in his own cause, he is very apt to be more violent and sanguinary in 
his punishments than the impartial spectator can approve of. His 
resentment too rises here upon smaller occasions, and does not always, 
as in other cases, wait for the perpetration of the crime, or even for 
the attempt to conmiit it A treasonable concert, though nothing has 
been done, or even attempted in consequence of it, nay, a treasonable 
conversation, is in many countries punished in the same manner as the 
actual commission of treason. With regard to all other crimes, the 
mere design, upon which no attempt has followed, is seldom punished 
at all, and is never punished severely. A criminal design, and a crimi- 
nal action, it may be said indeed, do not necessarily suppose the same 
degree of depravity, and ought not therefore to be subjected to the same 
punishment We are capable, it may be said, of resolving, and even 
of taking measures to execute, many things which, when it comes to 
the point, we feel ourselves altogether incapable of executing. But 
this reason can have no place when the design has been carried the 
length of the last attempt The man, however, who fires a pistol at his 
enemy but misses him, is punished with death by the laws of scarce 
any country. By the old law of Scotland, though he should wound 
him, yet, unless death ensues within a certain time, the assassin is not 
liable to the last punishment The resentment of mankind, however, 
runs so high against this crime, their terror for the man who shows 
himself capable of committing it is so great, that the mere attempt to 



commit it ought in all countries to be capital The attempt to commit 
smaller crimes is almost always punished very lightly, and sometimes 
is not punished at all. The thief, whose hand has been caught in his 
neighbour's pocket before he had taken any thing out of it, is punished 
with ignominy only. If he had got time to take away an handkerchief, 
he might have been put to death. The house-breaker, who has been 
found setting a ladder to his neighbour's window, but had not got into 
it, is not exposed to the capital punishment. The attempt to ravish is 
not punished as a rape. The attempt to 3educe a married woman is 
not punished at all, though seduction is punished severely. Our resent- 
ment against the person who only attempted to do a mischief, is seldom 
so strong as to bear us out in inflicting the same punishment upon him, 
which we should have thought due if he had actually done it In the 
one case, the joy of our deliverance alleviates our sense of the atrocity 
of his conduct ; in the other, the grief of our misfortune increases it. 
His real demerit, however, is undoubtedly the same in both cases, 
since his intentions were equally criminal ; and there is in this respect, 
therefore an irregularity in the sentiments of all men, and a conse- 
quent relaxation of discipline in the laws of, I believe, all nations of 
the most civilized, as well as of the most barbarous. The humanity of 
a civilized people disposes them either to dispense with, or to mitigate 
punishments, wherever their natural indignation is not goaded on by 
the consequences of the crime. Barbarians, on the other hand, when 
no actual consequence has happened from any action, are not apt to 
be very dehcate or inquisitive about the motives. 

The person himself who either from passion, or from the influence of 
bad company, has resolved, and perhaps taken measures to perpetrate 
some crime, but who has fortunately been prevented by an accident 
which put it out of his power, is sure, if he has any remains of con- 
science, to regard this event all his life after as a great and signal 
deliverance. He can never think of it without returning thanks to 
Heaven, for having been thus graciously pleased to save him from the 
guilt in which he was just ready to plunge himself, and to hinder him 
from rendering all the rest of his life a scene of horror, remorse, and 
repentance. But though his hands are innocent, he is conscious that 
his heart is equally guilty as if he had actually executed what he was 
so fully resolved upon. It gives great ease to his conscience, however, 
to consider that the crime was not executed, though he knows that the 
failure arose from no virtue in him. He still considers himself as less 
deserving of punishment and resentment; and this good fortune either 
diminishes, or takes away altogether, all sense of guilt To remember 
how much he was resolved upon it, has no other effect than to make 
him regard his escape as the greater and .more miraculous : for he still 
fancies that he has escaped, and he looks back upon the danger to 
which his peace of mind was exposed, with that terror, with which on^ 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 93 

who IS in safety may sometimes remember the haza,rd he was in of fall- 
ing over a precipice, and shudder with horror at the thought 

2. The second effect of this influence of fortune, is to increase our 
sense of the merit or demerit of actions beyond what is due to the 
motives or affection from which they proceed, when they happen to 
give occasion to extraordinary pleasure or pain. The agreeable or dis- 
agreeable effects of the action often throw a shadow of merit or 
demerit upon the agent, though in his intention there was nothing that 
deserved either praise or blame, or at least that deserved them in the 
degree in which we are apt to bestow them. Thus, even the messenger 
of bad news is disagreeable to us, and, on the contrary, we feel a sort 
of gratitude for the man who brings us good tidings. For a moment 
we look upon them both as the authors, the one of our good, the other 
of our bad fortune, and regard them in some measure as if they had 
really brought about the events which they only give an account of. 
The first author of our joy is naturally the object of a transitory grati- 
tude : we embrace him with warmth and affection, and should be glad, 
during the instant of our prosperity, to reward him as for some signal 
service. By the custom of all courts, the officer, who brings the news 
of a victory, is entitled to considerable preferments, and the general 
always chooses one of his principal favourites to go upon so agreeable 
an errand. The first author of our sorrow is, on the contrary, just as 
naturally the object of a transitory resentment. We can scarce avoid 
looking upon him with chagrin and uneasiness; and the rude and 
brutal are apt to vent upon him that spleen which his intelligence gives 
occasion to. Tigranes, King of Armenia, struck off the head of the 
man who brought him the first account of the approach of a formidable 
enemy. To punish in this manner the author of bad tidings, seems 
barbarous and inhuman : yet, to reward the messenger of good news, 
is not disagreeable to us ; we think it suitable to the bounty of kings. 
But why do we make this difference, since, if there is no fault in the 
one, neither is there any merit in the other? It is because any sort of 
reason seems sufficient to authorize the exertion of the social and be- 
nevolent affections ; but it requires the mo§t solid and substantial to 
make us enter into that of the unsocial and malevolent. 

But though in general we are averse to enter into the unsocial and 
malevolent affections, though we lay it down for a rule that we ought 
never to approve of their gratification, unless so far as the malicious 
and unjust intention of the person, against whom they are directed, 
renders him their proper object ; yet, upon some occasions, we relax of 
this severity. When the negligence of one man has occasioned some 
unintended damage to another, we generally enter so far into the 
resentment of the sufferer, as to approve of his inflicting a punishment 
upon the offender much beyond what the offence would have appeared 
to deserve, had no such unlucky consequence followed from it. 


There is a degree of negligence, which would appear to deserve so^ne 
chastisement though it should occasion no damage to anybody. Thus, 
if a person should throw a large stone over a wall into a public street 
without giving warning to those who might be passing by, and without 
regarding where it was likely to fall, he would undoubtedly deserve 
some chastisement. A very accurate poHce would punish so absurd an 
action, even though it had done no mischief. The person who has been 
guilty of it, shows an insolent contempt of the happiness and safety of 
others. There is real injustice in *his conduct He wantonly exposes 
his neighbour to what no man in his senses would choose to expose him- 
self, and evidently wants that sense of what is due to his fellow- 
creatures, which is the basis of justice and of society. Gross negligence 
therefore is, in the law, said to be almost equal to malicious design. 
(Lata culpa prope dolum est.) When any unlucky consequences happen 
from such carelessness, the person who has been guilty of it, is often 
punished as if he had really intended those consequences ; and his 
conduct, which was only thoughtless and insolent, and what deserved 
some chastisement, is considered as atrocious, and as liable to the 
severest punishment. Thus if, by the imprudent action above-men- 
tioned, he should accidentally kill a man, he is, by the laws of many 
countries, particularly by the old law of Scotland, liable to the last 
punishment. And though this is no doubt excessively severe, it is not 
altogether inconsistent with our natural sentiments. Our just indigna- 
tion 2^ainst the folly and inhumanity of his conduct is exasperated by 
our sympathy with the unfortunate sufferer. Nothing, however, would 
appeau: more shocking to our natural sense of equity, than to bring a 
man to the scaffold merely for having thrown a stone carelessly into 
the street without hurting any body. The folly and inhumanity of his 
conduct, however, would in this case be the same ; but still our senti- 
ments would be very different. The consideration of this difference 
may satisfy us how much the indignation, even of the spectator, is apt 
to be animated by the actual consequences of the action. In cases of 
this kind there will, if I am not mistaken, be found a great degree of 
severity in the laws of almost all nations ; as I have already observed 
that in those of an opposite kind there was a very general relaxation of 

There is another degree of negligence which does not involve in it 
any sort of injustice. The person who is guilty of it treats his neigh- 
bour as he treats himself, means no harm to any body, and is far from 
entertaining any insolent contempt for the safety and happiness of 
others. He is not, however, so careful and circumspect in his conduct 
as he ought to be, and deserves upon this account some degree of blame 
and censure, but no sort of punishment. Yet if, by a negligence (Culpa 
levis) of this kind he should occasion some damage to another person, 
he is by the laws of, I believe, all countries, obliged to compensate it 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 95 

And though this is, no doubt, a real punishment, and what no mortal 
would have thought of inflicting upon him, had it not been for the 
unlucky accident which his conduct gave occasion to; yet this decision 
of the law is approved of by the natural sentiments of all mankind. 
Nothing, we think, can be more just than that one man should not 
suffer by the carelessness of another; and that the damage occasioned 
by blamable negligence, should be made up by the person who was 
guilty of it 

There is another species of negligence (Culpa levissima), which con- 
sists merely in a want of the most anxious timidity and circumspection, 
with regard to all the possible consequences of our actions. The want 
of this painful attention, when no bad consequences follow from it, is 
so far from being regarded as blamable, that the contrary quality is 
rather considered as such. That timid circumspection which is afraid 
of every thing, is never regarded as a virtue, but as a quality which 
more than any other incapacitates for action and business. Yet when, 
from a want of this excessive care, a person happens to occasion some 
damage to another, he is often by the law obliged to compensate it 
Thus, by the Aquilian law, the man, who not being able to manage a 
horse that had accidentally taken fright, should happen to ride down 
his neighbour's slave, is obliged to compensate the damage. When an 
accident of this kind happens, we are apt to think that he ought not to 
have rode such a horse, and to regard his attempting it as an unpardon- 
able levity ; though without this accident we should not only have made 
no such reflection, but should have regarded his refusing it as the efiect 
of timid weakness, and of an anxiety about merely possible events, 
which it is to no purpose to be aware of. The person himself, who by 
an accident even of this kind has involuntarily hurt another, seems to 
have some sense of his own ill desert, with regard to him. He natu- 
rally runs up to the sufiferer to express his concern for what has 
happened, and to make every acknowledgment in his power. If he 
has any sensibility, he necessarily desires to compensate the damage, 
and to do every thing he can to appease that animal resentment which 
he is sensible will be apt to arise in the breast of the sufierer. To 
make no apology, to offer no atonement, is regarded as the highest 
brutality. Yet why should he make an apology more than any other 
person ? Why should he, since he was equally innocent with any other 
by-stander, be thus singled out from among all mankind, to make up 
for the bad fortune of another? This task would surely never be 
imposed upon him, did not even the impartial spectator feel some 
indulgence for what may be regarded as the unjust resentment of 
that other. 


Chap. III. — Of the final Cause of this Irregularity of Sentiments, 

Such is the effect of the good or bad consequence of actions upon the 
sentiments both of the person who performs them, and of others ; and 
thus, Fortune, which governs the world, has some influence where we 
should be least willing to allow her any, and directs in some measure 
the sentiments of mankind, with regard to the character and conduct 
both of themselves and others. That the world judges by the event, 
and not by the design, has been in all ages the complaint, and is the 
great discouragement of virtue. Every body agrees to the general 
maxim, that as the event does not depend on the agent, it ought to 
have no influence upon our sentiments, with regard to the merit or 
propriety of his conduct But when we come to particulars, we find 
that our sentiments are scarce in any one instance exactly conformable 
to what this equitable maxim would direct. The happy or unpros- 
perous event of any action, is not only apt to give us a good or bad 
opinion of the prudence with which it was C9nducted,- but almost 
always too animates our gratitude or resentment, our sense of the 
merit or demerit of the design. 
*- U«. - Nature, however, when she implanted the seeds of this irregularity 
' \ J in the human breast, seems, as upon all other occasions, to have in- 
tended the happiness and perfection of the species. If the hurtfulness 
of the design, if the malevolence of the affection, were alone the causes 
which excited our resentment, we should feel all the furies of that pas- 
sion against any person in whose breast we suspected or believed such 
designs or affections were harboured, though they had never broke out 
into any actions. Sentiments, thoughts, intentions, would become the 
objects of punishment ; and if the indignation of mankind run as high 
against them as against actions ; if the baseness of the thought which 
had given birth to no action, seemed in the eyes of the world as much 
to call aloud for vengeance as the baseness of the action, every court 
of judicature would become a real inquisition. There would be no 
safety for the most innocent and circumspect conduct. Bad wishes, 
bad views, bad designs, might still be suspected : and while these 
excited the same indignation with bad conduct, while bad intentions 
were as much resented as bad actions, they would equally expose the 
person to punishment and resentment. Actions, therefore, which 
either produce actual evil, or attempt to produce it, and thereby put us 
in the immediate fear of it, are by the Author of nature rendered the 
only proper and approved objects of human punishment and resent- 
ment Sentiments, designs, affections, though it is from these that 
according to cool reason human actions derive their whole merit or 
demerit, are placed by the great Judge of hearts beyond the limits of 
every human jurisdiction, and are reserved for the cognisance of his 
own unerring tribunal That necessary rule of justice, therefore, that 

smith's theory of moral sentiments* 97 

men in this life are liable to punishment for their actions only, not for 
their designs and intentions, is founded upon this salutary and useful 
irregularity in human sentiments concerning merit or demerit, which at 
first sight appears so absurd and unaccountable. But every part of 
nature, when attentively surveyed, equally demonstrates the providen- 
tial care of its Author, and we may admire the wisdom and goodness 
of God even in the weakness and folly of men. 

Nor is that irregularity of sentiments altogether without its utility, 
by which the merit of an unsuccessful attempt to serve, and much 
more that of mere good inclinations and kind wishes, appears to be 
imperfect Man was made for action, and to promote by the exertion 
of his faculties such changes in the external circumstances both of him- 
self and others, as may seem most favourable to the happiness of alL 
He must not be satisfied with indolent benevolence, nor fancy himself 
the friend of mankind, because in his heart he wishes well to the pros- 
perity of the world. That he may call forth the whole vigour of his 
soul, and strain every nerve, in order to produce those ends which it is 
the purpose of his being to advance. Nature has taught him, that 
neither himself nor mankind can be fully satisfied with his conduct, 
nor bestow upon it the full measure of applause, unless he has actually 
produced them. He is made to know, that the praise of good inten- 
tions, without the merit of good offices, will be but of little avail to 
excite either the loudest acclamations of the world, or even the highest 
degree of self applause. The man who has performed no single action 
of importance, but whose whole conversation and deportment express 
the justest, the noblest, and most generous sentiments, can be entitled 
to demand no very high reward, even though his inutility should be 
owing to nothing but the want of an opportunity to serve. We can 
still refuse it him without blame. We can still ask him. What have- 
you done ? What actual service can you produce, to entitle you to so 
great a recompense ? We esteem you, and love you ; but we owe you 
nothing. To reward indeed that latent virtue which has been useless 
only for want of an opportunity to serve, to bestow upon it those 
honours and preferments, which, though in some measure it may be 
said to deserve them, it could not with propriety have insisted upon, is 
the effect of the most divine benevolence. To punish, on the contrary, 
for the affections of the heart only, where no crime has been committed, 
is the most insolent and barbarous tyranny. The benevolent affections 
seem to deserve most praise, when they do not wait till it becomes 
almost a crime for them not to exert themselves. The malevolent, on 
the contrary, can scarce be too tardy, too slow, or deliberate. 

It is even of considerable importance, that the evil which is done 
without design should be regarded as a misfortune to the doer as well 
as to the sufferer. Man is thereby taught to reverence the happiness 
of his brethren, to tremble lest he should, even unknowingly, do any thing 


that can hurt them, and to dread that animal resentment which, he 
feels, is ready to burst out against him, if he should, without design, 
be the unhappy instrument of their calamity. As in the ancient 
heathen religion, that holy ground which had been consecrated to 
some god, was not to be trod upon but upon solemn and necessary 
occasions, and the man who had even ignorantly violated it, became 
piacular from that moment, and, until proper atonement should be 
made, incurred the vengeance of that powerful and invisible being to 
whom it had been set apart ; so by the wisdom of nature, the happi- 
ness of every innocent man is, in the same- manner, rendered holy, 
consecrated, and hedged round against the approach of every other 
man ; not to be wantonly trod upon, not even to be, in any respect, 
ignorantly and involuntarily violated, without requiring some expiation, 
some atonement in proportion to the greatness of such undesigned 
violation. A man of humanity, who accidentally, and without the 
smallest degree of blamable negligence, has been the cause of the 
death of another man, feels himself . piacular, though not guilty. 
During his whole life he considers this accident as one of the greatest 
misfortunes that could have befallen him. If the family of the slain is 
poor, and he himself in tolerable circumstances, he inmiediately takes 
them under his protection, and, without any other merit, thinks them 
entitled to every degree of favour and kindness. If they are in better 
circumstances, he endeavours by every submission, by every expression 
of sorrow, by rendering them every good office which he can devise or 
they accept of, to atone for what has happened, and to propitiate, as 
much as possible, their, perhaps natural, though no doubt most unjust 
resentment, for the great, though involuntary, offence which he has 
given unto them. 

The distress which an innocent person feels, who, by some accident, 
has been led to do something which, if it had been done with know- 
ledge and design, would have justly exposed him to the deepest re- 
proach, has given occasion to some of the finest and most interesting 
scenes both of the ancient and of the modem draijia. It is this 
fallacious sense of guilt, if I may call it so, which constitutes the whole 
distress of Oedipus and Jocasta upon the Greek, of Monimia and Isa- 
bella upon the English, theatre. They are all in the highest degree 
piacular, though not one of them is in the smallest degree guilty. 

Notwithstanding, however, all these seeming irregularities of senti- 
ment, if man should unfortunately either give occasion to those evils 
which he did not intend, or fail in producing that good which he in- 
tended, Nature has not left his innocence altogether without consola- 
tion, nor his virtue altogether without reward. He then calls to his 
assistance that just and equitable maxim, That those events which did 
not depend upon our conduct, ought not to diminish the esteem that is 
due to us. He summons up his whole magnanimity and firmness of 

smith's theory of moral sentiments, 99 

sou], And strives to regard himself, not in the light in which he at 
present appears, but in that in which he ought to appear, in which he 
would have appeared had his generous designs been crowned with 
success, and in which he would still appear, notwithstanding their mis- 
carriage, if the sentiments of mankind were either altogether candid 
and equitable, or eVen perfectly consistent with themselves. The more 
candid and humane part of mankind entirely go along with the efforts 
which he thus makes to support himself in his own opinion. They 
exert their whole generosity and greatness of mind, to correct in them- 
selves this irregularity of human nature, and endeavour to regard his 
unfortunate magnanimity in the same light in which, had it been suc- 
cessful, they would, without any such generous exertion, have naturally 
been disposed to consider it 

Part III. — Of the Foundation of our judgments concerning 
our own Sentiments and Conduct, and of the Sense of Duty. 

Chap. \.— Of the Principle of Self approbation and ofSelfdisappro- 


In the two foregoing parts of this discourse, I have chiefly considered 
the origin and foundation of our judgments concerning the sentiments 
and conduct of others. I come now to consider more particularly the 
origin of those concerning our own. 

The principle by which we naturally either approve or disapprove of 
our own conduct, seems to be altogether the same with that by which 
we exercise the like judgments concerning the conduct of other people. 
We either approve or disapprove of the conduct of another man accord- 
ing as we feel that, when we bring his case home to ourselves, we either 
can or cannot entirely sympathize with the sentiments and motives 
which directed it. And, in the same manner, we either approve or dis- 
approve of our own conduct, according as we feel that, when we place 
ourselves in the situation of another man, and view it, as it were, with 
his eyes and from his station, we either can or cannot entirely enter 
into and sympathize with the sentiments and motives which influenced 
it We can never survey our own sentiments and motives, we can 
never form any judgment concerning them ; unless we remove our- 
selves, as it were, from our own natural station, and endeavour to view 
them as at a certain distance from us. But we can do this in no other 
way than by endeavouring to view them with the eyes of other people, 
or as other people are likely to view them. Whatever judgment we 
can form concerning them, accordingly, must always bear some secret 
reference, either to what are, or to what, upon a certain condition. 


would be, or to what, we imagine, ought to be the judgment of others. 
We endeavour to examine our own conduct as we imagine any other 
fair and impartial spectator would examine it. If, upon placing our- 
selves in his situation, we thoroughly enter into all the passions and 
motives which influenced it, we approve of it, by sympathy with the 
approbation of this supposed equitable judge. If otherwise, we enter 
into his disapprobation, and condemn it 

Were it possible that a human creature could grow up to manhood 
in some solitary place, without any communication with his own species, 
he could no more think of his own character, of the propriety or de- 
merit of his own sentiments and conduct, of the beauty or deformity of 
his own mind, than of the beauty or deformity of his own face. All 
these are objects which he cannot easily see, which naturally he does 
not look at, and with regard to which he is provided with no mirror 
which can present them to his view. Bring him into society, and he 
is immediately provided with the mirror which he wanted before. It 
is placed in the countenance and behaviour of those he lives with, 
which always mark when they enter into, and when they disapprove of 
his sentiments ; and it is here that he first views the propriety and im- 
propriety of his own passions, the beauty and deformity of his own 
mind. To a man who from his birth was a stranger to society, the 
objects of his passions, the external bodies which either pleased or hurt 
him, would occupy his whole attention. The passions themselves, the 
desires or aversions, the joys or sorrows, which those objects excited, 
though of all things the most immediately present to him, could scarce 
ever be the objects of his thoughts. The idea of them could never 
interest him so much as to call upon his attentive consideration. The 
consideration of his joy could in him excite no new joy, nor that of his 
sorrow any new sorrow, though the consideration of the causes of those 
passions might often excite both. Bring him into society and aU his 
own passions will immediately become the causes of new passions. He 
will observe that mankind approve of some of them, and are disgusted 
by others. He will be elevated in the one case, and cast down in the 
other ; his desires and aversions, his joys and sorrows, will now often 
become the causes of new desires and new aversions, new joys and new 
sorrows : they will now, therefore, interest him deeply, and often call 
upon his most attentive consideration. 

Our first ideas of personal beauty and deformity, are drawn from the 
shape and appearance of others, not from our own. We soon be- 
come sensible, however, that others exercise the same criticism upon 
us. We are pleased when they approve of our figure, and are dis- 
obliged when they seem to be disgusted. We become anxious to know 
how far our appearance deserves either their blame or approbation. 
We examine our persons limb by limb, and by placing ourselves before 
a looking-glass, or by some such expedient, endeavour as much as pes- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. ioi 

sible, to view ourselves at the distance and with the eyes of other peo^ 
pie. If, after this examination, we are satisfied with our own appear- 
ance, we can more easily support the most disadvantageous judgments 
of others. If, on the contrary, we are sensible that we are the natural 
objects of distaste, every appearance of their disapprobation mortifies us 
beyond all measure. A man who is tolerably handsome, will allow you to 
laugh at any little irregularity in his person ; but all such jokes are 
commonly unsupportable to one who is really deformed. It is evident, 
. however, that we are anxious about our own beauty and deformity, 
only upon account of its effect upon others. If we had no connexion 
with society, we should be altogether indifferent about either. 

In the same manner our first moral criticisms are exercised upon the 
characters and conduct of other people ; and we are all very forward 
to observe how each of these affects us. But we soon learn, that other 
people are equally frank with regard to our own. We become anxious 
to know how far we deserve their censure or applause, and whether to 
them we must necessarily appear those agreeable or disagieeable crea- 
tures which they represent us. We begin, upon this account, to exa- 
mine our own passions and conduct, and to consider how these must 
appear to them, by considering how they would appear to us if 
in their situation. We suppose ourselves the spectators of our own 
behaviour, and endeavour to imagine what effect it would, in this light, 
produce upon us. This is the only looking-glass by which we can, in 
some measure, with the eyes of other people, scrutinize the propriety of 
our own conduct If in this view it pleases us, we are tolerably satis- 
fied. We can be more indifferent about the applause, and, in some 
measure, despise the censure of the world ; secure that, however mis- 
understood or misrepresented, we are the natural and proper objects of 
approbation. On the contrary, if we are doubtful about it, we are often, 
upon that very account, more anxious to gain their approbation, and, 
provided we have not already, as they say, shaken hands with infamy, 
we are altogether distracted at the thoughts of their censure, which 
then strikes us with double severity. 

When I endeavour to examine my own conduct, when I endeavour 
to pass sentence upon it, and either to approve or condemn it, it is 
evident that, in all such cases, I divide myself, as it were, into two per- 
sons ; and that I, the examiner and judge, represent a different cha- 
racter from that other I, the person whose conduct is examined into 
and judged of. The first is the spectator, whose sentiments with re- 
gard to my own conduct I endeavour to enter into, by placing myself 
in his situation, and by considering how it would appear to me, when 
seen from that particular point of view. The second is the agent, the 
person whom I properly call myself, and of whose conduct, under the 
character of a spectator, I was endeavouring to form some opinion. 
The first is the judge ; the second the person judged of. But that the 


judge should, in every respect, be the same with the person judged of, 
is as impossible, as that the cause should, in every respect, be the 
same with the effect 

To be amiable and to be meritorious ; that is, to deserve love and to 
deserve reward, are the great characters of virtue ; and to be odious 
and punishable, of vice. But all these characters have an inmiediate 
reference to the sentiments of others. Virtue is not said to be amiable, 
or to be meritorious, because it is the object of its own love, or of its 
own gratitude ; but because it excites those sentiments in other men. 
The consciousness that it is the object of such favourable regards, is 
the source of that inward tranquillity and self-satisfaction with which it 
is naturally attended, as the suspicion of the contrary gives occasion to 
the torments of vice. What so great happiness as to be bdoved, and 
to know that we deserve to be beloved ? What so great misery as to 
be hated, and to know that we deserve to be hated ? 

Chap. II. — Of the Love of Praise^ and of that of Praise-worthinessj 
and of the dread of Blame^ and of that of Blame-worthiness, 

Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely ; or to be 
that thing which is the natural and proper object of love. He naturally 
dreads, not only to be hated, but to be hateful ; or to be that thing 
which is the natural and proper object of hatred. He desires, not only 
praise, but praise-worthiness ; or to be that thing which, though it 
should be praised by nobody, is, however, the natural and proper 
object of praise. He dreads, not only blame, but blame-worthiness ; 
or to be that thing which, though it should be blamed by nobody, is, 
however, the natural and proper object of blame. 

The love of praise-worthiness is by no means derived altogether 
from the love of praise. Those two principles, though they resemble 
one another, though they are connected, and often blended with one 
another, are yet, in many respects, distinct and independent of one 

The love and admiration which we naturally conceive for those whose 
character and conduct we approve of, necessarily dispose us to desire 
to become ourselves the objects of the like agreeable sentiments, and to 
be as amiable and as admirable as those whom we love and admire the 
most. Emulation, the anxious desire that we ourselves should excel, is 
originally founded in our admiration of the excellence of others. Nei- 
ther can we be satisfied with being merely admired for what other 
people are admired. We must at least believe ourselves to be admira- 
ble for what they are admirable. But, in order to attain this satisfac- 
tion, we must become the impartial spectators of our own character and 
conduct. We must endeavour to view them with the eyes of other peo- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 103 

pie, or as other people are likely to view them. When seen in this 
light, if they appear to us as we wish, we are happy and contented. 
But it greatly confirms this happiness and contentment when we find 
that other people, viewing them with those very eyes with which we, in 
imagination only, were endeavouring to view them, see them precisely 
in the same light in which we ourselves had seen them. Their appro- 
bation necessarily confirms our own self-approbation. Their praise 
necessarily strengthens our own sense of our own praise-worthiness. 
In this case, so far is the love of praise-worthiness from being derived 
altogether from that of praise ; that the love of praise seems, at leasf 
in a great measure, to be derived from that of praise-worthiness. 

The most sincere praise can give little pleasure when it cannot be 
considered as some sort of proof of praise-worthiness. It is by no 
means sufficient that, from ignorance or mistake, esteem and admira- 
tion should, in some way or other, be bestowed upon us. If we are 
conscious that we do not deserve to be so favourably thought of, and 
that if the truth were known, we should be regarded with very different 
sentiments, our satisfaction is far from being complete. The man who 
applauds us either for actions which we did not perform, or for motives 
which had no sort of influence upon our conduct, applauds not us, but 
another person. We can derive no sort of satisfaction from his praises. 
To us they should be more mortifying than any censure, and should 
perpetually call to our minds, the most humbling of all reflections, the 
reflection of what we ought to be, but what we are not. A woman who 
paints, could derive, one should imagine, but Kttle vanity from the com- 
pliments that are paid to her complexion. These, we should expect, 
ought rather to put her in mmd of the sentiments which her real com- 
plexion would excite, and mortify her the more by the contrast. To be 
pleased with such groundless applause is a proof of the most superfi- 
cial levity and weakness. It is what is properly called vanity, and is 
the foundation of the most ridiculous and contemptible vices, the vices 
of affectation and common lying ; follies which, if experience did not 
teach us how common they are, one should imagine the least spark of 
common sense would save us from. The foolish liar, who endeavours 
to excite the admiration of the company by the relation of adventures 
which never had s^py existence ; the important coxcomb, who gives 
himself airs of rank and distinction which he well knows he has no just 
pretensions to ; are both of them, no doubt, pleased with the applause 
which they fancy they meet with. But their vanity arises from so gross 
an illusion of the imagination, that it is difficult to conceive how any 
rational creature should be imposed upon by it When they place 
themselves in the situation of those whom they fancy they have deceived, 
they are struck with the highest admiration for their own persons. They 
look upon themselves, not in that light in which, they know, they ought 
to appear to their companions, but in that in which they believe their 


companions actually look upon them. • Their superficial weakness and 
trivial folly hinder them from ever turning their eyes inwards, or from 
seeing themselves in that despicable point of view in which their own 
consciences must tell them that they would appear to every body, if the 
real truth should ever come to be known. 

As ignorant and groundless praise can give no solid joy, no satisfac- 
tion that will bear any serious examination, so, on the contrary, it often 
gives real comfort to reflect, that though no praise should actually be 
bestowed upon us, our conduct, however, has been such as to deserve 
«t, and has been in every respect suitable to those measures and rules 
by which praise and approbation are naturally and commonly bestowed. 
We are pleased, not only with praise, but with having done what is 
praise-worthy. We are pleased to think that we have rendered our- 
selves the natural objects of approbation, though no approbation should 
ever actually be bestowed upon us : and we are mortified to reflect that 
we have justly merited the blame of those we live with, though that 
sentiment should never actually be exerted against us. The man who 
is conscious to himself that he has exactly observed those measures of 
conduct which experience informs him are generally agreeable, reflects 
with satisfaction on the propriety of his own behaviour. When he 
views it in the light in which the impartial spectator would view it, he 
thoroughly enters into all the motives which influenced it He looks 
back upon every part of it with pleasure and approbation, and though 
mankind should never be acquainted with what he has done, he regards 
himself, not so much according to the light in which they actually re- 
gard him, as according to that in which they would regard him if they 
were better informed. He anticipates the applause and admiration 
which in this case would be bestowed upon him, and he applauds and 
admires himself by sympathy with sentiments, which do not indeed ac- 
tually take place, but which the ignorance of the public alone hinders 
from taking place, which he knows are the natural and ordinary efifects 
of such conduct, which his imagination strongly connects with it, and 
which he has acquired a habit of conceiving as something that naturally 
and in propriety ought to follow from it. Men have voluntarily thrown 
away life to acquire after death a renown which they could no longer 
enjoy. Their imagination, in the mean time, anticipated that fame 
which was in future times to be bestowed upon them. Those applauses 
which they were never to hear rung in their ears ; the thoughts of that 
admiration, whose efiects they were never to fed, played about their 
hearts, banished from their breasts the strongest of all natural fears, 
and transported them to perform actions which seem almost beyond 
the reach of human nature. But in point of reality there is surely no 
great difference between that approbation which is not to be bestowed 
till we can no longer enjoy it, and that which, indeed, is never to be 
bestowed, but which would be bestowed, if the world was ever made to 

smith's theory of mqral sentiments. S05 

understand properly the real circumstances of our behaviour. If the 
one often produces such violent effects, we cannot wonder that the 
other should always be highly regarded. 

Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an 
original desire to pkase, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. 
She taught him to feel pleasure in their favourable, and pain in their 
unfavourable regard. She rendered their approbation most flattering 
and most agreeable to him for its own sake ; and their disapprobation 
most mortifying and most offensive. 

But this desire of the approbation, and this aversion to the disappro- 
bation of his brethren, would not alone have rendered him fit for that 
society for which he was made. Nature, accordingly, has endowed him^ 
not only with a desire of being approved of, but with a desire of being 
what ought to be approved of ; or of being what he himself approves 
of in other men. The first desire could only have made him wish to 
appear to be fit for society. The second was necessary in order to 
render him anxious to be really fit The first could only have prompted 
him to the affectation of virtue, and to the concealment of vice. The 
second was necessary in order to inspire him with the real love of virtue, 
and with the real abhorrence of vice. In every well-formed mind this 
second desire seems to be the strongest of the two. It is only the 
weakest and most superficial of mankind who can be much delighted 
with that praise which they themselves know to be altogether unmerit- 
ed. A weak man may sometimes be plesised with it, but a wise man 
rejects it upon all occasions. But, though a wise man feels little plea- 
sure from praise where he knows there is no praise-worthiness, he often 
feels the highest in doing what he knows to be praise-worthy, though he 
knows equally well that no praise is ever to be bestowed upon it To 
obtain the approbation of mankind, where no approbation is due, can 
never be an object of any importance to him. To obtain that appro- 
bation where it is really due, may sometimes be an object of no great 
importance to him. But to be that thing which deserves approbation, 
must always be an object of the highest 
To desire, or even to accept of praise, where no praise is due, can be 
, the effect only of the most contemptible vanity. To desire it where it 
is really due is to desire no more than that a most essential act of jus- 
tice should be done to us. The love of just fame, of true glory, even 
for its own sake, and independent of any advantage which he can 
derive from it, is not unworthy even of a wise man. He sometimes, 
however, neglects, and even despises it ; and he is never more apt to 
do so than when he has the most perfect assurance of the perfect pro- 
priety of every part of his own conduct His self-approbation, in 
this case, stands in need of no confirmation from the approbation 
of other men. It is alone sufficient, and he is contented with it 
This self-approbation, if not the only, is at least the principal object^ 



about whicli he can or ought to be anxious. The love of it is the 
love of virtue. 

As the love and admiration which we naturally conceive for some 
characters, dispose us to wish to become oursdves the prqper objects 
of such agreeable sentiments ; so the hatred and contempt which we 
as naturally conceive for others, dispose us, perhaps still more strongly, 
to dread the very thought of resembling them in any respect Neither 
is it, in this case, too, so much the thought of being hated and despised 
that we are afraid of, as that of being hateful and despicable. We 
dread the thought of doing any thing which can render us the just and 
proper objects of the hatred and contempt of our fellow-creatures ; 
even though we had the most perfect security that those sentiments were 
never actually to be exerted against us. The man who has broke 
through aU those measures of conduct, which can alone render him 
agreeable to mankind, though he should have the most perfect assu- 
rance that what he had done was for ever to be concealed from every 
human eye, it is all to no purpose. When he looks back upon it, and 
views it in the light in which the impartial spectator would view it, he 
finds that he can enter into none of the motives which influenced it 
He is abashed and confounded at the thoughts of it, and necessarily 
feels a very high degree of that shame which he would be exposed to, 
if his actions should ever come to be generally known. His imagina- 
tion, in this case too, anticipates the contempt and derision from which 
nothing saves him but the ignorance of those he lives with. He still 
feels that he is the natural object of these sentiments, and still trembles 
at the thought of what he would suffer, if they were ever actually ex- 
erted against him. But if what he had been guilty of was not merely 
one of those improprieties which are the objects of simple disapproba- 
tion, but one of those enormous crimes which excite detestation and 
resentment, he could never think of it, as long as he had any sensibility 
left, without feeling all the agony of horror and remorse ; and though 
he could be assured that no man was ever to know it, and could even 
bring himself to believe that there was no God to revenge it, he would 
still feel enough of both these sentiments to embitter the whole of his 
life : he would still regard himself as the natural object of the hatred 
and indignation of all his fellow-creatures ; and, if his heart was not 
grown callous by the habit of crimes, he could not think without terror 
and astonishment even of the manner in which mankind would look 
upon him, of what would be the expression of their countenance and 
of their eyes, if the dreadful truth should ever come to be known. These 
natural pangs of an affrighted conscience are the daemons, the avenging 
furies, which, in this life, haunt the guilty, which allow them neither 
quiet nor repose, which often drive them to despair and distraction, 
from which no assurance of secrecy can protect them, from which no 
principles of irreligion can entirely deliver them, and fix)m which 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. X07 

nothing can free them but the vilest and most abject of all st^es, a 
complete insensibility to honour and infamy, to vice and virtue. Men 
of the most detestable characters, who, in the execution of the most 
dreadful crimes, had taken their measures so coolly as to avoid even the 
suspicion of guilt, have sometimes been driven, by the horror of their 
situation, to discover, of their own accord, what no human sagacity 
could ever have investigated. By acknowledging their guilt, by submitting 
themselves to the resentment of their offended fellow-citizens, and, by 
thus satiating that vengeance of which they were sensible that they had 
become the proper objects, they hoped, by their death to reconcile them- 
selves, at least in their own imagination, to the natural sentiments of 
mankind ; to be able to consider themselves as less worthy of hatred and 
resentment ; to atone, in some measure, for their crimes, and, by thus 
becoming the objects rather of compassion than of horror, if possible^ 
to die in peace and with the forgiveness of all their fellow-creatures. 
Compared to what they felt before the discovery, even the thought of 
this, it seems was happiness. 

In such cases, the horror of blame-worthiness seems, even in persons 
who cannot be suspected of any extraordinary delicacy or sensibility of 
character, completely to conquer the dread of blame. In order to allay 
that horror, in order to pacify, in some degree, the remorse of their own 
consciences, they voluntarily submitted themselves both to the reproach 
and to the punishment which they knew were due to their crimes, but 
which, at the same time, they might easily have avoided. 

They are the most frivolous and superficial of mankind only who 
can be much delighted with that praise which they themselves know to 
be altogether unmerited. Unmerited reproach, however, is frequently 
capable of mortifying very severely even men of more than ordinary 
constancy. Men of the most ordinary constancy, indeed, easily learn 
to despise those foolish tales which are so frequently circulated in 
society, and which, from their own absurdity and falsehood, never fail 
to die away in the course of a few weeks, or of a few days. But an 
innocent man, though of more than ordinary constancy, is often, not 
only shocked, but most severely mortified by the serious, tliough false, 
imputation of a crime ; especially when that imputation happens unfor- 
tunately to be supported by some circumstances which gave it an air 
of probability. He is humbled to find that any body should think so 
meanly of his character as to suppose him capable of being guilty of it 
Though perfectly conscious of his own innocence, the very imputation 
seems often, even in his own imagination, to throw a shadow of dis- 
grace and dishonour upon his character. His just indignation, too, at 
so very gross an injury, which, however, it may frequently be improper 
and sometimes even impossible to revenge, is itself a very painful sen- 
sation. There is no greater tormentor of the human breast than violent 
resentment which cannot be gratified. An innocent man, brought to 

8 * 


the scaffold by the false imputation of an infamous or odious crime, 
suffers the most cruel misfortune which it is possible for innocence to 
suffer. The agony of his mind may, in this case, frequently be greater 
than that of those who suffer for the like crimes, of which they have 
been actually guilty. Profligate criminals, such as common thieves 
and highwaymen, have frequently little sense of the baseness of their 
own conduct, and consequently no remorse. Without troubling them- 
selves about the justice or injustice of the punishment, they have 
always been accustomed to look upon the gibbet as a lot very likely to 
fall to them. When it does fall to them, therefore, they consider them- 
selves only as not quite so lucky as some of their companions, and 
submit to their fortune, without any other uneasiness than what may 
jarise from the fear of death ; a fear which, even by such worthless 
wretches, we frequently see, can be so easily, and so very completely 
conquered. The innocent man, on the contrary, over and above the 
uneasiness which this fear may occasion, is tormented by his own 
indignation at the injustice which has been done to him. He is struck 
with horror at the thoughts of the infamy which the punishment may 
shed upon his memory, and foresees, with the most exquisite anguish, 
that he is hereafter to be remembered by his dearest friends and rela- 
tions, not with regret and affection, but with shame, and even with 
horror for his supposed disgraceful conduct : and the shades of death 
appear to close round him with a darker and more melancholy gloom 
than naturally belongs to them. Such fatal accidents, for the tran- 
quillity of mankind, it is to be hoped, happen very rarely in any coun- 
try ; but they happen sometimes in all countries, even in those where 
justice is in general very well administered. The unfortunate Calas, a 
man of much more than ordinary constancy (broke upon the wheel and 
burnt at Tholouse for the supposed murder of his own son, of which he 
was perfectly innocent), seemed, with his last breath, to deprecate, not 
so much the cruelty of the punishment, as the disgrace which the 
imputation might bring upon his memory. After he had been broke, 
and was just going to be thrown into the fire, the monk, who attended 
the execution, exhorted him to confess the crime for which he had been 
condemned. * My father,' said Calas, * can you yourself bring yourself 
* to beUeve that I am guilty ?* 

To persons in such unfortunate circumstances, that humble philosophy 
which confines its views to this life, can afford, perhaps, but little con- 
solation. Every thing that could render either life or death respectable 
is taken from them. They are condemned to death and to everlasting 
infamy. Religion can alone afford them any effectual comfort. She 
alone can tell them that it is of little importance what man may think 
of their conduct, while the all-seeing Judge of the world approves of it. 
She alone can present to them the view of another world ; a world of 
more candour, humanity, and justice, than the preserve ; where their 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. X09 

innocence is iA due* time to be declared, and their virtue to be finally 
rewarded : and the same great principle which can alone strike terror 
into triumphant vice, affords the only effectual consolation to disgraced 
and insulted innocence. 

In smaller ofTences, as well as in greater crimes, it frequently hap* 
pens that a person of sensibility is much more hurt by the unjust 
imputation, than the real criminal is by the actual guilt A woman of 
gallantry laughs even at the well-founded surmises which are circulated 
concerning her conduct. The worst founded surmise of the same 
kind is a mortal stab to an innocent virgin. The person who is 
deliberately guilty of a disgraceful action, we may lay it down, I 
believe, as a general rule, can seldom have much sense of the dist 
grace; and the person who is habitually guilty of it, can scarce ever 
have any. 

When every man, even of middling understanding, so readily de- 
spises unmerited applause, how it co^nes to pass that unmerited reproach 
should often be capable of mortifying so severely men of the soundest 
and best judgment, may, perhaps, deserve some consideration. 

Pain, I have already had occasion to observe, is, in almost all cases, 
a more pimgent seiisation than the opposite and correspondent plea- 
sure. The one, almost always, depresses us much more below the 
ordinary, or what may be called the natural, state of our happiness, 
than the other ever raises us above it. A man of sensibility is apt to 
be more humiliated by just censure than he is ever elevated by just 
applause. Unmerited applause a wise man rejects with contempt 
upon all occasions ; but he often feels very severely the injustice of 
unmerited' censure. By suffering himself to be applauded for what he 
has not performed, by assuming a merit which does not belong to him, 
he feels that he is guilty ot a mean falsehood, and deserves, not the 
admiration, but the contempt of those very persons who, by mistake, 
had been led to admire him. It may, perhaps, give him some well- 
founded pleasure to find that he has been, by many people, thought 
capable of performing what he did not perform. But, though he may 
be obliged to his friends for their good opinion, he would think himself 
guilty of the greatest baseness if he did not immediately undeceive 
them. It gives him little pleasure to look upon himself in the light in 
which other people actually look upon him, when he is conscious that, 
if they knew the truth, they would look upon him in a very different 
light A weak man, however, is often much delighted with viewing 
himself in this false and delusive light He assumes the merit of every 
laudable action that is ascribed to him, and pretends to that of many 
which nobody ever thought of ascribing to him. He pretends to have 
done what he never did, to have written what another wrote, to have 
invented what another discovered ; and is led into all the miserable 
vices of plagiarism and common lying. But though no man of mid- 


dling good sense can derive much pleasure from the imputation of a 
laudable action which he never performed, yet a wise man may suffer 
great pain from the serious imputation of a crime which he never com- 
mitted. Nature, in this case, has rendered the pain, not only more 
pungent than the opposite and correspondent pleasure, but she has 
rendered it so in a much greater than the ordinary degree. A denial 
rids a man at once of the foolish and ridiculous pleasure ; but it will 
not always rid him of the pain. When he refuses the merit which is 
ascribed to him, nobody doubts his veracity. It may be doubted when 
he denies the crime which he is accused of. He is at once enraged at 
the falsehood of the imputation, and mortified to find that any credit 
should be given to it. He feels that his character is not sufficient to 
protect him. He feels that his brethren, far from looking upon him in 
that light in which he anxiously desires to be viewed by them, think 
him capable of being guilty <A what he is accused of. He knows per- 
fectly that he has not been guilty. He knows perfectly what he has 
done ; but, perhaps, scarce any man can know perfectly what he him- 
self is capable of doing. What the peculiar constitution of his own 
mind may or may not admit of, is, perhaps, more or less a matter of 
doubt to every man. The trust and good opinion of his friends and 
neighbours, tends more than any thing to relieve him from this most 
disagreeable doubt ; their distrust and unfavourable opinion to increase 
it. He may think himself very confident that their unfavourable judg- 
ment is wrong : but this confidence can seldom be so great as to hinder 
that judgment from making some impression upon him ; and the greater 
his sensibility, the greater his delicacy, the greater his worth in short, 
this impression is likely to be the greater. 

The agreement or disagreement both of the sentiments and judg- 
ments of other people with our own, is, in all cases, it must be observed, 
/ of more or less importance to us, exactly in proportion as we ourselves 
^ are more or less uncertain about the propriety of our own sentiments, 
about the accuracy of our own judgments. 

A man of sensibility may sometimes feel great uneasiness lest he 
should have yielded too much even to what may be called an honour- 
able passion ; to his just indignation, perhaps, at the injury which may- 
have been done either to himself or to his friend. He is anxiously 
afraid lest, meaning only to act with spirit, and to do justice, he may, 
from the too great vehemence of his emotion, have done a real injury 
to some other person ; who, though not innocent, may not have been 
altogether so guilty as he at first apprehended. The opinion of oAer 
people becomes, in this case, of the utmost importance to him. Their 
approbation is the most healing balsam ; their disapprobation, the bit- 
terest and most tormenting poison that can be poured into his uneasy 
mind. When he is perfectly satisfied with every part of his own con- 
duct, the judgment of other people is often of less importance to him. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. Ill 

There are some veiy soble and beautiful arts, in whidi the degree of 
excellence can be determined only by a certain nicety of taste, of which 
the decisions, however, appear always^ in some measure, uncertain. 
There are others, in which the success admits, eitha: of clear demon- 
stration, or very satisfactory proof. Among the candidates for excel- 
lence in those different arts, the anxiety about the pubhc opinion is 
always much greater in the former than in the latter. 

The beauty of poetry is a matter of such nicety, that a young 
beginner can scarce ever be certain that he has attained it Nothing 
delights him so much, therefore, as the favourable judgments of his 
friends and of the public ; and nothing mortifies him so severely as 
the contrary. Tne one establishes, the other shakes, the good opinion 
which he is anxious to entertain concerning his own performances. 
Experience and success may in time give him a little more confidence 
in his own judgment He is at all times, however, lialde to be most 
severely mortified by the unfavourable judgments of the public. Racine 
was so disgusted by the indifferent success of his Phaedra, the finest 
tragedy, perhaps, that is extant in any language, that, though in the 
vigour of his life, and at the height of his abilities, be resolved to write 
no more for the stage. That great poet used frequendy to tell his son, 
that the most paltry and impertinent criticism had always given him 
more pain than the highest and justest eulogy had ever given him 
pleasure. The extreme sensibility of Voltaire to the slightest censure 
of the same kind is well known to every body. The Dunciad of 
Mr. Pope is an everlasting monument of how much the most correct, 
as well as the most elegant and harmonious of aU the English poets, 
iiad been hurt by the criticisms of the lowest and most contemptible 
authors. Gray (who joins to the sublimity of Milton the elegance and 
harmony of Pope, and to whom nothing is wanting to render him, per- 
haps, the first poet in the EngUsh language, but to have written a httle 
more) is said to have been so much hurt by a foolish and impertinent 
parody of two of his finest odes, that he never afterwards attempted 
any considerable work. Those men of letters who value themselves 
upon what is called fine writing in prose, approach somewhat to the 
sensibility of poets. 

Mathematicians, on the contrary, who may have the most perfect 
assurance, both of the truth and of the importance of their discoveries, 
are frequently very indifferent about the reception which they may 
meet with from the public. The two greatest mathematicians that I 
ever had the honour to be known to, and I believe, the two greatest 
that have lived in my time. Dr. Robert Simpson of Glasgow, and Dr. 
Matthew Stewart of Edinburgh, never seemed to feel even the slightest 
uneasiness from the neglect with which the ignorance of the public 
received some of their most valuable works. The great work of Sir 
Isaac Newton, ^« Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy^ I 


have been told, was for several years neglected by the public. The 
tranquillity of that great man, it is probable, never suffered, upon that 
account, the interruption of a single quarter of an hour. Natural 
philosophers, in their independency upon the public opinion, approach 
nearly to mathematicians, and, in their judgments concerning the 
merit of their own discoveries and observations, enjoy some degree of 
the same security and tranquillity. 

The morals of those different classes of men of letters are, perhaps, 
sometimes somewhat affected by this very great difference in their situ- 
ation with regard to the public. 

Mathematicians and natural philosophers, from their independency 
upon the public opinion, have little temptation to form themselves into 
factions and cabals, either for the support of their own reputation, or 
for the depression of that of their rivals. They are almost always men 
of the most amiable simplicity of manners, who Uve in good harmony 
with one another, are the friends of one another's reputation, enter into 
no intrigue in order to secure the public applause, but are pleased when 
their works are approved of, without being either much vexed or very 
angry when they are neglected. 

It is not always the same case with poets, or with those who value 
themselves upon what is called fine writing. They are very apt to 
divide themselves into a sort of literary faction ; each cabal being often 
avowedly, and almost always secretly, the mortal enemy of the reputa- 
tion of every other, and employing all the mean arts of intrigue and 
solicitation to pre-occupy the public opinion in favour of the works of 
its own members, and against those of its enemies and rivals. In 
France, Despreaux and Racine did not think it below them to set them- 
selves at the head of a literary cabal, in order to depress the reputation, 
first of Quinault and Perreault, and afterwards of Fontenelle and La 
Motte, and even to treat the good La Fontaine with a species of most 
disrespectful kindness. In England, the amiable Mr. Addison did not 
think it unworthy of his gentle and modest character to set himself at 
the head of a little cabal of the same kind, in order to keep down the 
rising reputation of Mr. Pope. Mr. Fontenelle, in writing the lives 
and characters of the members of the academy of sciences, a society of 
mathematicians and natural philosophers, has frequent opportunities of 
celebrating the amiable simplicity of their manners ; a quality which, 
he observes, was so universal among them as to be characteristical, 
rather of that whole class of men of letters, than of any individual Mr. 
D'Alembert, in writing the lives and characters of the members of the 
French Academy, a society of poets and fine writers, or of those who 
are supposed to be such, seems not to have had such frequent oppor- 
tunities of making any remark of this kind, and no where pretends to 
represent this amiable quality as characteristical of that class of men 
of letters whom he celebrates^ 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 1x3 

Our uncertainty concerning our own merit, and our anxiety to think 
favourably of it, should together naturally enough make us desirous to 
know the opinion of other people concerning it ; to be more than or- 
dinarily elevated when that opinion is favourable, and to be more than 
ordinarily mortified when it is otherwise : but they should not make us 
desirous either of obtaining the favourable, or of avoiding the unfavour- 
able opinion, by intrigue and cabaL When a man has bribed all the 
judges, the most unanimous decision of the court, though it may gain 
him his law-suit, cannot give him any assurance that he was in the 
right : and had he carried on his law- suit merely to satisfy himself that 
he was in the right, he never would have bribed the judges. But 
though he wished to find himself in the right, he wished likewise 
to gain his law-suit ; and therefore he bribed the judges. If praise 
were of no consequence to us, but as a proof of our own praise- 
worthiness, we never should endeavour to obtain it by unfair means. 
But, though to wise men it is, at least in doubtful cases, of principal 
consequence upon this account ; it is hkewise of some consequence 
upon its own account : and therefore (we cannot, indeed, upon such 
occasions, call them wise men), but men very much above the common 
level have sometimes attempted both to obtain praise, and to avoid 
blame, by very unfair means. 

Praise and blame express what actually are, praise-worthiness and 
blame-worthiness what naturally ought to be, the sentiments of other 
people with regard to our character and conduct The love of praise 
is the desire of obtaining the favourable sentiments of our brethren. 
The love of praise-worthiness is the desire of rendering ourselves the 
proper objects of those sentiments. So far those two principles re- 
semble and are aldn to one another. The like affinity and resemblance 
take place between dread of blame and that of blame-worthiness. 

The man who desires to do, or who actually does, a praise-worthy 
action, may likewise desire the praise which is due to it, and some- 
times, perhaps, more than is due to it The two principles are in 
this case blended together. How far his conduct may have been 
influenced by the one, and how far by the other, may frequently be 
unknown even to himself It must almost always be so to other 
people. They who are disposed to lessen the merit of his con- 
duct, impute it chiefly or altogether to the mere love of praise, or to 
what they call mere vanity. They who are disposed to think more 
favourably of it, impute it chiefly or altogether to the love of praise- 
worthiness ; to the love of what is really honourable and noble in 
human conduct ; to the desire, not merely of obtaining, but of deserv- 
ing the approbation and applause of his brethren. The imagination of 
the spectator throws upon it either the one colour or the other, accord- 
ing either to his habits of thinking, or to the favour or dislike which he 
may bear to the person whose conduct he is considering. 


> . . . • 

Som e splenetic philosopHers, in judging of human nature, hare done 

as peevish individuals are apt to do in judging of the conduct of one 
another, and have imputed to the love of praise, or to what they call 
vanity, every action which ought to be ascribed to that of praise- 
worthiness. I shall hereafter have occasion to give an account of some 
of their systems, and shall not at present stop to examine them. 

Very few men can be satisfied with their own private consciousness 
that they have attained those qualities, or performed those actions, 
which they admire and think praise-worthy in other people ; unless it is, 
at the same time, generally acknowledged that they possess the one, 
or have performed the other ; or, in other words, unless they have 
actually obtained that praise which they think due both to the one and 
to the other. In this respect, however, men differ considerably from 
one another. Some seem indifferent about the praise, when, in their 
pwn minds, they are perfectly satisfied that they have attained the 
praise-worthiness. Others appear much less anxious about the praise- 
worthiness than about the praise. 

No man can be completely, or even tolerably satisfied, with having 
avoided every thing blame-worthy in his conduct, unless he has like- 
wise avoided the blame or the reproach. A wise man may frequently 
neglect praise, even when he has best deserved it ; but, in all matters 
of serious consequence, he will most carefully endeavour so to regulate 
his conduct as to avoid, not only blame-worthiness, but, as much as 
possible, every probable imputation of blame. He will never, indeed, 
avoid blame by doing any thing which he judges blame-worthy ; by 
omitting any part of his duty, or by neglecting any opportunity of doing 
any thing which he judges to be really and greatly praise-worthy. But, 
with these modifications, he will most anxiously and carefully avoid it. 
To show much anxiety about praise, even for praise-worthy actions, is 
seldom a mark of g^eat wisdom, but generally of some degree of weak- 
ness. But, in being anxious to avoid the shadow of blame or reproach, 
there may be no weakness, but frequently there may be the most 
praise-worthy prudence. 

*Many people,' says Cicero, despise glory, who are yet most 
* severely mortified by unjust reproach ; and that most inconsistently.* 
This inconsistency, however, seems to be founded in the unalterable 
principles of human nature. 

The all-wise Author of Nature has, in this manner, taught man to 
respect the sentiments and judgments of his brethren ; to be more or 
less pleased when they approve of his conduct, and to be more or less 
hurt when they disapprove of it He has made man, if I may say so, 
r ^ the immediate judge of mankind ; and has, in this respect, as in many 
others, created him after his own image, and appointed him his vice- 
gerent upon earth, to superintend the behaviour of his brethren. They 
are taught by nature, to acknowledge that power and jurisdiction which 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. IIS 

has thus l^een conferred upon him, to be more or less humbled and 
mortified when they have incurred his censure, and to be more or less 
elated when they have obtained his applause. 

But though man has, in this manner, been rendered the immediate 
judge of mankind, he has been rendered so only in the first instance ; 
and an appeal lies from his sentence to a much higher tribunal, to 
the tribunal of their own consciences, to that of the supposed im- 
pardal and well-informed spectator, to that of the man within the 
breast, the great judge and arbiter of their conduct The jurisdictions 
of those two tribunals are founded upon principles which, though in 
some respects resembling and akin, are, however, in reality different and 
distinct. The jurisdiction of the man without, is founded altogether in 
the desire of actual praise, and in the aversion to actual blame. The 
jurisdiction of the man within, is founded altogether in the desire of 
praise-worthiness, and in the aversion to blame-worthiness; in the 
desire of possessing those qualities, and performing those actions, 
which we love and admire in other people ; and in the dread of pos- 
sessing those qualities, and performing those actions, which we hate 
and despise in other people. If the man without should applaud us, either 
for actions which we have not performed, or for motives which had no 
influence upon us ; the man within can immediately humble that pride 
and elevation of mind which such groundless acclamations might other- 
wise occasion, by telling us, that^s we know that we do not deserve 
them, we render ourselves despicable by acceptii^ them. If, on the 
contrary, the man without should reproach us, either for actions which 
we never performed, or for motives which had no influence upon those 
which we may have performed, the man within may immediately 
correct this false judgment, and assure us, that we are by no means 
the proper objects of that censure which has so unjustly been be- 
stowed upon us. But in this and in some other cases, the man with- 
in seems sometimes, as it were, astonished and confounded by the 
vehemence and clamour of the man without The violence and loud- 
ness with which blame is sometimes poured out upon us, seems to 
stupify and benumb our natural sense of praise-worthiness and blame- 
worthiness ; and the judgments of the man within, though not, perhaps, 
absolutely altered or perverted, are, however, so much shaken in the 
steadiness and finnness of their decision, that their natural effect, in 
securing the tranquillity of the mind, is frequently in a great measure 
destroyed. We scarce dare to absolve ourselves, vdien all our brethren 
appear loudly to condemn us. The supposed impartial spectator of 
our conduct seems to give his opinion in our favour with fear and hesi- 
tation ; when that of all the real spectators, when that of all those with 
whose eyes and from whose station he endeavours to consider it, is 
unanimously and violently against u«. In such cases, this demigod 
within the breast appears, like the demigods of the poets, though 


partly of immortal, yet partly too of mortal extraction. When his 
judgments are steadily and firmly directed by the sense of praise- 
worthiness and blame-worthiness, he seems to act suitably to his 
divine extraction : but when he suffers himself to be astonished and 
confounded by the judgments of ignorant and weak man, he dis- 
covers his connexion with mortality, and appears to act suitably, 
rather to the human, than to the divine, part of his origin. 

In such cases, the only effectual consolation of humbled and afflicted 
man lies in an appeal to a still higher tribunal, to that of the all-seeing 
Judge of the world, whose eye can never be deceived, and whose judg- 
ments can never be perverted. A firm confidence in the unerring 
rectitude of this great tribunal, before which his innocence is in due 
time to be declared, and his virtue to be finally rewarded, can alone 
support him under the weakness and despondency of his own mind, 
under the perturbation and astonishment of the man within the breast, 
whom nature has set up as, p this life, the great guardian, not only of 
his innocence, but of his tranquillity. Our happiness in this life is thus, 
upon many occasions, dependent upon the humble hope and expecta- 
tion of a life to come : a hope and expectation deeply rooted in human 
nature ; which can alone support its lofty ideas of its own dignity ; can 
alone illumine the dreary prospect of its continually approaching mor- 
tality, and maintain its cheerfulness imder all the heaviest calamities 
to which, from the disorders of this life, it may sometimes be exposed. 
That there is a world to come, where exact justice will be done to every 
man, where every man will be ranked with those who, in the moral and 
intellectual qualities, are really his equals ; where the owner of those 
humble talents and virtues which, from being depressed by fortunes, 
had, in this life, no opportunity of displaying themselves ; which were 
unknown, not only to the public, but which he himself could scarce be 
sure that he possessed, and for which even the man within the breast 
could scarce venture to afford him any distinct and clear testimony; 
where that modest, silent, and unknown merit, will be placed upon a 
level, and sometimes above those who, in this world, had enjoyed the 
highest reputation, and who, from the advantage of their situation, had 
been enabled to perform the most splendid and dazzling actions ; is a 
doctrine, in every respect so venerable, so comfortable to the weakness, 
so flattering to the grandeur of human nature, that the virtuous man 
who has the misfortune to doubt of it, cannot possibly avoid wishing 
most earnestly and anxiously to believe it. It could never have been 
exposed to the derision of the scoffer, had not the distribution of re- 
wards and punishments, which some of its most zealous assertors have 
taught us was to be made in that world to come, been too frequently in 
direct opposition to all our moral sentiments. 

That the assiduous courtier is often more favoured than the faithful 
and active servant; that attendance and adulation are often shorter 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. X17 

and surer roads to preferment than merit or service ; and that a cam- 
paign at Versailles or St James's is often worth two either in Germany 
or Flanders, is a complaint which we have all heard from many a 
venerable, but discontented, old officer. But what is considered as the 
greatest reproach even to the weakness of earthly sovereigns, has been 
ascribed, as an act of justice, to divine perfection ; and the duties of 
devotion, the public and private worship of the Deity, have been repre- 
sented, even by men of virtue and abilities, as the sole virtues which 
can either entitle to reward or exempt from punishment in the life to 
come. They were the virtues perhaps, most suitable to their station, 
and in which they themselves chiefly excelled; and we are all naturally 
disposed to over-rate the excellencies of our own characters. In the 
discourse which the eloquent and philosophical Massillon pronounced, 
on giving his benediction to the standards of the regiment of Catinat, 
there is the following address to the officers : 'What is most deplorable 
*in your situation, gentlemen, is, that in a life hard and painful, in 
'which the services and the duties sometimes go beyond the rigour and 
' severity of the most austere cloisters ; you suffer always in vain for 
' the life to come, and frequently even for this life. Alas ! the solitary 
' monk in his cell, obliged to mortify the flesh and to subject it to the 

* spirit, is supported by the hope of an assured recompense, and by the 
' secret unction of that grace which softens the yoke of the Lord But 
'you, on the bed of death, can you dare to represent to Him your 
'fatigues and the daily hardships of your employment? can you dare 
' to solicit Him for any recompense ? and in all the exertions that you 
' have made, in all the violences that you have done to yourselves, what 
' is there that He ought to place to His own account ? The best days 
' of your life, however, have been sacrificed to your profession, and ten 
' years' service has more worn out your body, than would, perhaps, have 

* done a whole life of repentance and mortiflcation. Alas ! my brother, 
'one single day of those sufferings, consecrated to the Lord, would, 
' perhaps, have obtained you an eternal happiness. One single action, 

* painful to nature, and offered up to Him, would, perhaps, have secured 
' to you the inheritance of the saints. And you have done all this, and 
' in vain, for this world.' 

To compare, in this manner, the futile mortifications of a monastery, 
to the ennobling hardships and hazards of war ; to suppose that one 
day, or one hour, employed in the former should, in the eye of the great 
Judge of the world, have more merit than a whole Ufe spent honourably 
in the latter, is surely contrary to all our moral sentiments : to all the 
principles by which nature has taught us to regulate our contempt or 
admiration. It is this spirit, however, which, while it has reserved the 
celestial regions for monks and friars, or for those whose conduct and 
conversation resembled those of monks and friars, has condemned to 
the infernal all the heroes, all the statesmen and lawgivers, all the poets 


and philosophers of fonner ages ; all those who have invented, unproved^ 
or excelled in the arts, which contribute to the subsistence, to the con- 
veniency, or to the ornament of human life ; all the great protectors, 
instructors, and benefactors of manldnd; all those to whom our natural 
sense of praise*worthiness forces us to ascribe the highest merit and 
most exalted virtue. Can we wonder that so strange an application of 
this most respectable doctrine should sometimes have exposed it to 
contempt and derision ; with those at least who had themselves, per- 
hapS; no great taste or turn for the devout and contemplative virtues ?* 

Chap. III. — 0/ the Influence and Authority of Conscience, 

But though the approbation of his own conscience can scarce, upon 
some extraordinary occasions, content the weakness of man; diough 
the testimony of the supposed impartial spectator of the great inmate 
of the breast, cannot always alone support him ; yet the influence and 
authority of this principle is, upon all occasions, very great ; and it is 
only by consulting this judge within, that we can ever see what relates 
to ourselves in its proper shape and dimensions ; or that we can ever 
make any proper comparison between our own interests and those of 
other people. 

As to the eye of the body, objects appear great or small, not so much 
according to their real dimensions, as according to .the nearness or dis- 
tance of their situation ; so do they likewise to what may be called the 
natural eye of the mind: and we remedy the defects of both these 
organs pretty much in the same manner. In my present situation an 
immense landscape of lawns, and woods, and distant mountains, seems 
to do no more than cover the httle window which I write by, and to be 
out of all proportion less than the chamber in which I am sitting. I 
can form a just comparison between those great objects and the littie 
objects around me, in no other way, than by transporting myself, at 
least in fancy, to a different station, from whence I can survey both at 
nearly equal distances, and thereby form some judgment of tiieir real 
proportions. Habit and experience have taught me to do this so easily 
and so readily, that I am scarce sensible that I do it ; and a man must 
be, in some measure, acquainted with the philosophy of vision, before 
he can be thoroughly convinced, how little those distant objects would 
appear to the eye, if the imagination, from a knowledge of their real 
magnitudes, did not swell and dilate them. 

In the same manner, to the selfish and original passions of human 
nature, the loss or gain of a very small interest of our own, appears to 
be of vastly more importance, excites a much more passionate joy or 

• Vous y grillez sag^ docte Platon, 
Divin Homere, eloquent Ciceroni etc.— t^M Voltaire. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 1x9 

sorrow, a much more ardent desire or aversion, than the greatest con- 
cern of another with whom we have no particular connexion. His 
interests, as long as they are surveyed from this station, can never be 
put into the balance with our own, can never restrain us from doing 
whatever may tend to promote our own, how ruinous so ever to hinu 
Before we can make any proper comparison of those opposite interests, 
we must change our position. We must view them, neither from our 
own place nor yet from his, neither with our own eyes nor yet with his, 
but from the place and with the eyes of a third person, who has no par* 
ticular connexion with either, and who judges with impartiality between 
us. Ha-e, too, habit and experience have taught us to do this so easily 
and so readily, that we are scarce sensible that we do it ; and it requires, 
in this case too, some degree of reflection, and even of philosophy, to 
convince us, how little interest we should take in the greatest concerns 
of our neighbour, how little we should be affected by whatever relates 
to him, if the sense of propriety and justice did not correct the other- 
wise natural inequality of our sentiments. 

Let us suppose that the great empire of Giina, with all its myriads 
of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let 
us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of 
connexion with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving 
intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of 
all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy 
people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the pre- 
cariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, 
which co\ild thus be annihilated in a moment. He would, too, perhaps; 
if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning 
the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of 
Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general And 
when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane senti- 
ments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or 
his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease 
and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most 
frivolous disaster which could befal himself would occasion a more 
real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he 
would not sleep to-night ; but, provided he never saw them, he will 
snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred 
millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude 
seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry mis- 
fortune of his own. To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to 
himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a 
hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them ? 
Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, 
in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a vil- 
lain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this 


difference ? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid 
and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often 
be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much 
more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves than by what- 
ever concerns other men, what is it which prompts the generous, 
upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own 
interests to the greater interests of others ? It is not the soft power 
of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature 
has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting 
the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more 
forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, 
/ principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the 
great judge and arbiter of our conduct It is he who, whenever we 
are about to act so as to affect the happiness of others, calls to us, with, 
a voice capable of astonishing the most presumptuous of our passions, 
' that we are but one of the multitude, in no respect better than any 
other in it ; and when we prefer ourselves so shamefully and so blindly 
to others, we become the proper objects of resentment, abhorrence, 
and execration. It is from him only that we learn the real littleness of 
ourselves, and of whatever relates to ourselves, and the natural misrepre- 
sentations of self-love can be corrected only by the eye of this impartial 
spectator. It is he who shows us the propriety of generosity and the 
deformity of injustice ; the propriety of resigning the greatest interests 
of our own, for the yet greater interests of others, and the deformity of 
doing the smallest injury to another, in order to obtain the greatest 
benefit to ourselves. It is not the love of our neighbour, it is not the 
love of mankind, which upon many occasions prompts us to the 
practice of those divine virtues. It is a stronger love, a more powerful 
affection, which generally takes place upon such occasions ; the love 
of what is honourable and noble, of the grandeur, and dignity, and 
superiority of our own characters. 

When the happiness or misery of others depends in any respect 
upon our conduct, we dare not, as self-love might suggest to us, prefer 
the interest of one to that of many. The man within immediately 
calls to us, that we value ourselves too much and other people too 
little, and that, by doing so, we render ourselves the proper object of 
the contempt and indignation of our brethren. Neither is this senti- 
ment confined to men of extraordinary magnanimity and virtue. It is 
deeply impressed upon every tolerably good soldier, who feels that he 
would become the scorn of his companions, if he could be supposed 
capable of shrinking from danger, or of hesitating, either to expose or 
to throw away his life, when the good of the service required it 

One individual must never prefer himself so much even to any other 
individual, as to hurt or injure that other, in order to benefit himself, 
though the benefit to the one should be much greater than the hurt or 


injury to tlie other. The poor man must neither defraud nor steal 
from the rich, though the acquisition might be much more beneficial 
to the one than the loss could be hurtful to the other. The man 
within immediately calls to him in this case too, that he is no better 
than his neighbour, and that by his unjust preference he renders 
himself the proper object of the contempt and indignation of mankind ; 
as well as of the punishment which that contempt and indignation 
must naturally dispose them to inflict, for having thus violated one of 
those sacred rules, upon the tolerable observation of which depend the 
whole security and peace ot human society. There is no conmionly 
honest man who does not more dread the inward disgrace of such an 
action, the indelible stain which it would for ever stamp upon his own 
mind, than the greatest external calamity which^ without any fault of 
bis own, could possibly befal hint; and who does, not inwardly feel the 
truth of that great stoical maxim,, that for one man to deprive another 
unjustly of any thing, or unjustly to promote his •wn advantaige by 
the loss or disadvantage of another, is more contrary to nature, \han 
death, than poverty, than pain, than all the misfortunes which can 
afifect him, either in his body, or in his external circumstances. 

When the happiness or misery of others, indeed, in no respect 
depends upon our conduct, when our interests are altogether separated 
and detached from theirs, so that there is neither connexion nor 
competition between them, we do not always think it so necessary to 
restrain, either our natural and, perhaps, improper anxiety about our 
own affairs, or our natural and, perhaps, equally improper indifference 
about those of other men. The most vulgar education teaches us to 
act, upon all important occasions, with some sort of impartiality 
between ourselves and others, and even the ordinary commerce of the 
world is capable of adjusting our active principles to some degree of 
propriety. But it is the most artificial and refined education only, it 
has been said, which can correct the inequalities of our passive 
feelings ; and we must for this purpose, it has been pretended, have 
recourse to the severest, as well as to the profoundest philosophy. 

Two different sets of philosophers have attempted to teach us this 
hardest of all the lessons of morality. One set have laboured to 
increase our sensibility to the interests of others ; another, to diminish 
that to our own. The first would have us feel for others as we naturally 
feel for ourselves. The second would have us feel for ourselves as we 
naturally feel for others. Both, perhaps, have carried their doctrines 
a good deal beyond the just standard of nature and propriety. 

The first are those whining and melancholy moralists, who are 
perpetually reproaching us with our happiness, while so many of our 
brethren are in misery,^ who regard as impious the natural joy of 

1 "Ah! little think the gay licentious proud," &c. See Thomson's Seasons, Winter. 
See also Pascal. 


prosperity, which does not think of the many wretches that are at 
every instant labouring under all sorts of calamities, in the languor of 
poverty, in the agony of disease, in the horrors of death, under the 
insults and oppressions of their enemies. Commiseration for those 
miseries which we never saw, which we never heard of, .but which we 
may be assured are at all times infesting such numbers of our fellow- 
creatures, ought, they think, to damp the pleasures of the fortunate, 
and to render a certain melandioly dejection habitual to all men. 
But first of all, this extreme sjrmpathy with misfortunes which we 
know nothing about, seems altogether absurd and uiureasonable. 
Take the whole earth at an average, for one man who suffers pain or 
misery, you will find twenty in prosperity and Joy, or at least ia 
tolerable circumstances. No reason, surely, can be assigned why we 
should rather weep with the one than rejoice with the twenty. This arti- 
ficial commiseration, besides, is not pnly absurd, but seems altogether 
unattainable ; and those who affect' this character have commonly 
nothing but a certain affected and sentimental sadness, which, without 
reaching the heart, serves only to render the countenance and con- 
versation impertinently dismal and disagreeable. And last of all, this 
disposition of mind, though it could be attained, would be perfectly- 
useless, and could serve no other purpose than to render miserable the 
person who possessed it Whatever interest we take in the fortune 
of those with whom we have no acquaintance or connexion, and who 
are placed altogether out of the sphere of our activity, can produce 
only anxiety to ourselves without any manner of advantage to them. To 
what purpose should we trouble ourselves about the world in the moon? 
All men, even those at the greatest distance, are no doubt entitled to our 
good wishes, and our good wishes we naturally give them. But if, not- 
withstanding, they should be unfortunate, to give ourselves any anxiety 
upon that account, seems to be no part of our duty. That we should 
be but little interested, therefore, in the fortune of diose whom we can 
neither serve nor hurt, and who are in every respect so very remote 
from us, seems wistely ordered by nature ; and if it were possible to 
alter in this respect the original constitution of our frame, we could 
yet gain nothing by the change. 

It is never objected to us that we have too little fellow-feeling with 
the joy of success. Wherever envy does not prevent it, the favour 
which we bear to prosperity is rather apt to be too great; and the 
same moralists who blame us for want of sufficient sympathy with the 
miserable, reproach us for the levity with which we are too apt to 
admire and almost to worship the fortunate and the powerful. 

Among the moralists who endeavour to correct the natural inequality 
of our passive feelings by diminishing our sensibility to what peculiarly 
concerns ourselves, we may count all the ancient sects of philosophers, 
but particularly the ancient Stoics. Man, according to the Stoics, 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 12$ 

ought to regard himself, not as something separated and detached, 
but as a citizen of the world, a member of the vast commonwealth of 
nature. To the interest of this great community, he ought at all 
times to be willing that his own little interest should be sacrificed 
Whatever conokms himself, ought to affect him no nwre than whatever 
concerns any other equally important part of this immense system. 
We should view ourselves, not in the light in which our own selfish 
passions are apt to place us, but in the light in which any other citizen 
of the world would view us. What befalls ourselves we should regard 
as what befalls our neighbour, or, what comes to the same thing, as 
our neighbour regards what befalls us. * When our neighbour,' says 
Epictetus, Uoses his wife, or his son, there is nobody who is not 
' sensible that this is a human calamity, a natural event altogether 

* according to the ordinary course of things ; but when the same thing 

* happens to ourselves, then we cry out, as if we had suffered the most 

* dreadfvd misfortune. We ought, however, to remember how we were 
' affected when this accident happened to another, and such as we 

* were in his case, such ought we to be in our own.' 

Those private misfortimes, for which our feelings are apt to go be- 
yond the bounds of propriety, are of two different kinds. They are 
either such as aftect us only indirectly, by affecting, in the first place, 
some other persons who are particularly dear to us ; such as our 
parents, our children, our brothers and sisters, our intimate friends ; 
or they are such as affect ourselves immediately and directly, either in 
our body, in our* fortune, or in our reputation ; such as pain, sickness, 
approaching death, poverty, disgrace, etc. 

In misfortunes of the first kind, our emotions may, no doubt, go very 
much beyond what exact propriety will admit of ; but they may hke- 
wise fall short of it, and they frequently do so. The man who should 
feel no more for the death or distress of his own father, or son, than 
for those of any other man's father or son, would appear neither a. 
good son nor a good father. Such unnatural indifference, far from 
exciting our applause, would incur our highest disapprobation. Of 
these domestic affections, however, some are most apt to offend by 
their excess, and others by their defect Nature, for the wisest pur- 
poses, has rendered, in most men, perhaps in all men, parental tender- 
ness a much stronger affection than filial piety. The continuance and 
propagation of the species depend altogether upon the former; and not 
upon the latter. In ordinary cases, the existence and preservation o£ 
the child depend altogether upon the care of the parents. Those of 
the parents seldom depend upon that of the child. Nature, therefore, 
has rendered the former affection so strong, that it generally requires 
not to be excited, but to be moderated ; and moralists seldom endea- 
vour to teach us how to indulge, but generally how to restrain our 
fondness, our excessive attachment, the imjust preference which we 



are disposed to give to our own children above those of other people. 
They exhort us, on the contrary, to an affectionate attention to our 
parents, and to make a proper return to them, in their old age, for the 
kindness which they had shown to us in our infancy and youth. In 
the Decalogue we are commanded to honour our fathers and mothers. 
No mention is made of the love of our children. Nature has suffi- 
ciently prepared us for the performance of this latter duty. Men are 
seldom accused of affecting to be fonder of their children than they 
really are. They have sometimes been suspected of displaying their 
piety to their parents with too much ostentation. The ostentatious sor- 
row of widows has, for a like reason, been suspected of insincerity. 
We should respect, could we believe it sincere, even the excess of such 
kind affections ; and though we might not perfectly approve, we should 
not severely condemn it That it appears, praise-worthy, at least in the 
eyes of those who affect it, the very affectation is a proof. 

Even the excess of those kind affections which are most apt to 
offend by their excess, though it may appear blamable, never appears 
odious. We blame the excessive fondness and anxiety of a parent, as 
something which may, i^^i the end, prove hurtful to the child, and which, 
in the mean time, is excessively inconvenient to the parent ; but we 
easily pardon it, and never regard it with hatred and detestation. But 
the defect of this usually excessive affection appears always peculiarly 
odious. The man who appears to feel nothing for his own children, 
but who treats them upon all occasions with unmerited severity and 
harshness, seems of all brutes the most detestable. The sense of 
propriety, so far from requiring us to eradicate altogether that extra- 
ordinary sensibility which we naturally feel for the misfortunes of our 
nearest connections, is always much more offended by the defect, than 
it ever is by the excess of that sensibility. The stoical apathy is, in 
such cases, never agreeable, and all the metaphysical sophism by which 
it is supported can Seldom serve any other purpose than to blow up the 
hard insensibility of a coxcomb to ten times its native impertinence. 
The poets and romance writers, who best paint the refinements and 
delicacies of love and friendship, and of all other private and domestic 
affections, Racine and Voltaire ; Richardson, Maurivaux, and Ricco- 
boni ; are, in such cases, much better instructors than the philosophers 
Zeno, Chrysippus, or Epictetus. 

That moderated sensibility to the misfortunes of others, which does 
not disqualify us for the performance of any duty ; the melancholy and 
affectionate remembrance of our departed friends ; the pang^ as Gray 
says, to secret sorrow dear; are by no means undelicious sensations. 
Though they outwardly wear the features of pain and grief, they are 
all inwardly stamped with the ennobling characters of virtue and of 

It is otherwise in the misfortunes which affect ourselves immediately 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 12$ 

and directly, eithefr in our body, in our fortune, or in our reputation. 
The sense of propriety is much more apt to be offended by the excess, 
than by the defect of our sensibility, and there are but few cases in which 
we can approach too near to the stoical apathy and indifference. 

That we have very little fellow-feeling with any of the passions which 
take their origin from the body, has already been observed. That paia 
which is occasioned by an evident cause ; such as, the cutting or tear- 
ing of the flesh ; is, perhaps, the affection of the body with which the 
spectator feels the most lively sympathy. The approaching death of 
his neighbour, too, seldom fails to affect him a good deal In both 
cases, however, he feels so very little in comparison of what the person 
principally concerned feels, that the latter can scarce ever offend the 
fomier by appearing to suffer with too much ease. 

The mere want of fortune, mere poverty, excites little compassion. 
Its complaints are too apt to be the objects rather of contempt than of 
fellow-feeling. We despise a beggar ; and, though his importunities 
may extort an alms from us, he is scarce ever the object of any serious 
commiseration. The fall from riches to poverty, as it commonly - 
occasions the most real distress to the sufferer, so it seldom fails to 
excite the most sincere commiseration in the spectator. Though, in 
the present state of society, this misfortune can seldom happen without ^ 
' some misconduct, and some very considerable misconduct too, in the 
sufferer ; yet he is almost always so much pitied that he is scarce ever 
allowed to fall into the lowest state of poverty; but by the means of 
his friends, frequently by the indulgence of those very creditors who 
have much reason to complain of his imprudence, is almost always 
supported in some degree of decent, though humble, mediocrity. To 
persons under such misfortunes, we could, perhaps, easily pardon some 
degree of weakness ; but at the same time, they who carry the firmest 
countenance, who accommodate themselves with the greatest ease to 
their new situation, who seem to feel no humiliation from the change, 
but to rest their rank in the society, not upon their fortune, but upon 
their character and conduct, are always the most approved of, and 
commjind our highest and most affectionate admiration. 

As, of all the external misfortunes which can affect an innocent man j 
immediately and directly, the undeserved loss of reputation is certainly /^ 
the greatest ; so a considerable degree of sensibility to whatever can 
bring on so great a calamity, does not always appear ungraceful or 
disagreeable. We often esteem a young man the more, when he 
resents, though with some degree of violence, any unjust reproach that 
may have been thrown upon his character or his honour. The afflic- 
tion of an innocent young lady, on account of the groundless surmises 
which may have been circulated concerning her coAduct, appears often 
perfecdy amiable. Persons of an advanced age, whom long experience 
of the folly and injustice of the world has taught to pay little regard, 


either to its censure or to its applause, neglect and despise obloquy, 
and do not even deign to honour its futile authors with any serious 
resentment This indifference, which is founded altogether on a firm 
confidence in their own well-tried and well-established characters, 
would be disagreeable in young people, who neither can nor ought to 
have any such confidence. It might in them be supposed to forebode, 
in their advancing years, a most improper insensibility to real honour 
and infamy of character. 

In all other private misfortunes which affect ourselves immediately 
and directly, we can very seldom offend by appearing to be too little 
affected. We frequently remember our sensibility to the misfortunes of 
others with pleasure and satisfaction. We can seldom remember that 
to our own, without some degree of shame and humiliation. 

If we examine the different shades and gradations of weakness and 
self-command, as we meet with them in common life, we shall very 
easily satisfy ourselves that this control of our passive feeling must be 
acquired, not from the abstruse syllogisms of a quibbling dialectic, 
but from that great discipline which Nature has established for the 
acquisition of this and of every other virtue ; a regard to the senti- 
ments of the real or supposed spectator of our conduct. 

A very young child has no self-command ; but, whatever are its emo- 
tions, whether fear, or grief, or anger, it endeavours always, by the vio-^ 
lence of his outcries, to alarm, as much as it can,^ the attention of its 
nurse or of its parents. While it remains under the custody of such 
partial protectors, its anger is the first and, perhaps, the only passion 
which it is taught to moderate. By noise and threatening they are, for 
their own ease, often obliged to frighten it into good temper ; and the 
passion which incites it to attack, is restrained by that which teaches it 
to attend to its own safety. When it is old enough to go to school, or 
to mix with its equals, it soon finds that they have no such indulgent 
partiality. It naturally wishes to gain their favour, and to avoid their 
hatred or contempt Regard even to its own safety teaches it to do so ; 
and it soon finds that it can do so in no other way than by moderating 
not only its anger, but all its other passions, to the degree which its 
play-fellows and compsinions are likely to be pleased with. It thus en- 
ters into the great school of self-command, it studies to be more and 
more master of itself, and begins to exercise over its own feelings a 
discipline which the practice of the longest life is very seldom sufficient 
to bring to complete perfection. 

In all private misfortunes, in pain, in sickness, in sorrow, the weak- 
est man, when his friend, and still more when a stranger visits him, is 
immediately impressed with the view in which they are likely to look 
upon his situation. Their view calls off his attention from his own 
view ; and his breast is, in some measure, becalmed the moment they 
come into his presence. This effect is produced instantaneously and. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 127 

as it were, mechanically ; but, with a weak man, it is not of long con- 
tinuance. His own view of Ms situation immediately recurs upon him. 
He abandons himself, as before, to sighs and tears and lamentations ; 
and endeavours, like a child that has not yet gone to school, to produce 
some sort of harmony between his own grief and the compassion of 
the spectator, not by moderating the former, but by importunately 
calling upon the latter. 

With a man of a little more firmness, the effect is somewhat more 
pemianent He endeavours, as much as he can, to fix his attention 
upon the view which the company are likely to take of his situation. 
He feels, at the same time, the esteem and approbation which they 
naturally conceive for him when he thus preserves his> tranquillity ; and^ 
though under the pressure of some recent and great calamity, appears 
to feel for himself no more than what they really feel for him« He ap> 
proves and applauds himself by sympathy with their approbation, and 
the pleasure which he derives from this sentiment supports and enables 
him more easily to continue this generous effort In most cases he 
avoids mentioning his own misfortune ; and his company, if they are 
tolerably well bred, are careful to say nothing which can put him in 
mind of it He endeavours to entertain them, in his usual way, upon 
indifferent subjects, or, if he feels himself strong enough to venture to 
mention his misfortune, he endeavours to talk of it as, he thinks, they 
are capable of talking of it, and even to feel it no further than they are 
capable of feeling it If he has not, however, been well inured to the 
hard discipline of self-command, he soon grows weary of this restraint 
A long visit fatigues him ; and, towards the end of it, he is constantly 
in danger of doing, what he never fails to do the moment it is over, of 
abandoning himself to all the weakness of excessive sorrow. Modem 
good manners, which are extremely indulgent to human weakness, for- 
bid, for some time, the visits of strangers to persons under great family 
distress, and permit those only of the nearest relations and most inti- 
mate friends. The presence of the latter, it is thought, will impose less 
restraint than that of the former ; and the sufferers can more easily 
accommodate themselves to the feelings of those, from whom they have 
reason to expect a more indulgent sympathy. Secret enemies, who 
fancy that they are not known to be such, are frequently fond ot 
making those charitable visits as early as the most intimate friends. 
The weakest man in the world, in this case, endeavours to support his 
manly countenance, and, firom indignation and contempt of their malice 
to behave with as much gaiety and ease as he can. 

The man of real constancy and firmness, the wise and just man who 
has been thoroughly bred in the great school of self-command, in the 
bustle and business of the world, exposed, perhaps, to the violence and 
injustice of faction, and to the hardships and hazards of war, maintains 
this control of his passive feelings upon- all occasions ; and whether in 


solitude or in society, wears nearly the same countenance, and is affect- 
ed very nearly in the same manner. In success and in disappoint- 
ment, in prosperity and in adversity, before friends and before enemies, 
he has often been under the necessity of supporting this manhood. He 
has never dared to forget for one moment the judgment which the im- 
partial spectator would pass upon his sentiments and conduct He has 
never dared to suffer the man within his breast to be absent one 
moment from his attention. With the eyes of this great inmate he has 
always been accustomed to regard whatever relates to himself. This 
habit has become perfectly familiar to him. He has been in the con- 
stant practice, and, indeed, under the constant necessity, of modelling, 
or of endeavouring to model, not only his outward conduct and beha- 
viour, but, as much as he can, even his inward sentiments and feelings, 
according to those of this awful and respectable judge. He does not 
merely affect the sentiments of the impartial spectator. He really 
adopts them. He almost identifies himself with, he almost becomes 
himself that impartial spectator, and scarce even feels but as that great 
arbiter of his conduct directs him to feeL 

The degree of the self-approbation with which every man, upon such 
occasions, surveys his own conduct, is higher or lower, exactly in pro- 
portion to the degree of self-command which is necessary in order to 
obtain that self-approbation. Where little self-conmiand is necessary, 
little self-approbation is due. The man who has only scratched his 
finger, cannot much applaud himself, though he should inmiediately 
appear to have forgot this paltry misfortune. The man who has lost 
his leg by a cannon shot, and who, the moment after, speaks and acts 
with his usual coolness and tranquillity, as he exerts a much higher 
degree of self-command, so he naturally feels a much higher degree of 
self-approbation. With most men, upon such an accident, their own 
natural view of their own misfortune would force itself upon them with 
such a vivacity and strength of colouring, as would entirely efface all 
thought of every other view. They would feel nothing, they could at- 
tend to nothing, but their own pain and their own fear ; and not only 
the judgment of the ideal man within the breast, but that of the real 
spectators who might happen to be present, would be entirely over- 
looked and disregarded. 

The reward which Nature bestows upon good behaviour under mis- 
fortune, is thus exactly proportioned to the degree of that good beha- 
viour. The only compensation she could possibly make for the bitter- 
ness of pain and distress is thus, too, in equal degrees of good behaviour, 
exactly proportioned to the degree of that pain and distress. In pro- 
portion to the degree of self-command which is necessary in order to 
conquer our natural sensibility, the pleasure and pride of the conquest 
are so much the greater ; and this pleasure and pride are so great that 
no man can be altogether unhappy who completely enjoys them. Misery 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 129 

and wretchedness can never enter the breast in which dwells complete 
self-satisfaction ; and though it may be too much, perhaps, to say, with 
the Stoics, that, under such an accident as that above mentioned, the 
happiness of a wise man is in every respect equal to what it could have 
been under any other circumstances ; yet it must be acknowledged, at 
least, that this complete enjoyment of his own self-applause, though it 
may not altogether extinguish, must certainly very much alleviate his 
sense of his own sufferings. 

In such paroxysms of distress, if I may be allowed to call them so, 
the wisest and firmest man, in order to preserve his equanimity, is 
obliged, I imagine, to make a considerable, and even a painful exertion. 
His own natural feeling of his own distress, his own natural view of his 
own situation, presses hard upon him, and he cannot, without a very 
great effort, fix his attention upon that of the impartial spectator. Both 
views present themselves to him at the same time. His sense of hon- 
our, his regard to his own dignity, directs^ him to fix his whole attention 
upon the one view. His natural, his untaught, and undisciplined feel- 
ings, are continually calling it off to the other. He does not, in this 
case, perfectly identify himself with the ideal man within the breast, he 
does not become himself the impartial spectator of his own conduct 
The different views of both characters exist in his mind separate and 
distinct from one another, and each directing him to a behaviour differ- 
ent from that to which the other directs him. When he follows that 
view which honour and dignity point out to him. Nature does not, in- 
deed, leave him without a recompense. He enjoys his own complete 
self-approbation, and the applause of every candid and impartial spec- 
tator. By her unalterable laws, however, he still suffers ; and the re- 
compense which she bestows, though very considerable, is not sufficient 
completely to compensate the sufferings which those laws inflict. 
Neither is it fit that it should. If it did completely compensate them, 
he could, from self-interest, have no motive for avoiding an accident 
which must necessarily diminish his utility both to himself and to 
society ; and Nature, from her parental care of both, meant that he 
should anxiously avoid all such accidents. He suffers, therefore ; and 
though in the agony of the paroxysm, he maintains, not only the man- 
hood of his countenance, but sedateness and sobriety of judgment, it 
requires his utmost and most fatiguing exertions to do so. 

By the constitution of human nature, however, agony can never be 
pemianent ; and, if he survives the paroxysm, he soon comes, without 
any effort, to enjoy his ordinary tranquillity. A man with a wooden 
leg suffers, no doubt, and foresees that he must continue to suffer 
during the remainder of his life, a very considerable inconveniency. 
He soon comes to view it, however, exactly as every impartial spectator 
views it ; as an inconveniency under which he can enjoy all the ordi- 
nary pleasures both of solitude and of society. He soon identifies him- 


self with the ideaJ man within the breast, he soon becomes himself Ihe 
impartial" spectator of his own situation. He no longer weeps, he no 
longer laments, he no longer grieves over it, as a weak man may some- 
times do in the beginning. The view of the impartial spectator becomes 
so perfectly habitual to him, that, without effort, without exertion^ he 
never thinks of surveying his misfortune in any other view. 

The never-failing certainty with which all men, sooner or later, 
accommodate themselves to whatever becomes their permanent situa- 
tion, may, perhaps, induce us to think that the Stoics were, at least, 
thus far very nearly in the right ; that, between one permanent situation 
and another, there was, with regard to real happiness, no essential 
difference : or that, if there were any difference, it was no more than 
just sufficient to render some of them the objects of simple choice or 
preference ; but not of any earnest or anxious desire : and others, of 
simple rejection, as being fit to be set aside or avoided; but not of any 
esuTiest or anxious aversion. Happiness consists in tranquillity and 
enjoyment. Without tranquillity there can be no enjoyment; and 
where there is perfect tranquillity there is scarce any thing which is 
not capable of amusing. But in every permanent situation, where 
there is no expectation of change, the mind of every man, in a longer 
or shorter time, returns to its natural and usual state of tranquillity. 
In prosperity, after a certain time, it falls back to that state ; in adver- 
sity, after a certain time, it rises up to it In the confinement and 
solitude of the Bastile, after a certain time, the fashionable and frivo- 
lous Count de Lauzun recovered tranquillity enough to be capable of 
amusing himself with feeding a spider. A mind better furnished would, 
perhaps, have both sooner recovered its tranquillity, and sooner found, 
in its own thoughts, a much better amusement. 

The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, 
seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent 
situation and another. Avarice over-rates the difference between 
poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public 
station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation. 
The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, 
is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to 
disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so 
foolishly admires. The slightest observation, however, might satisfy 
him, that, in all the ordinary situations of human life, a well-disposed 
mind may be equally cahn, equally cheerful, and equally contented. 
Some of those situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to 
others : but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passion- 
ate ardour which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of 
justice ; or to corrupt the future tranquillity of our minds, either by 
shame from the remembrance of our own foUy, or by remorse from the 
horror of our own injustice. Wherever prudence does not direct. 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 13X 


wherever justice does not permit, the attempt to change our situation, 
the man who does attempt it, plays at the most unequal of all games of 
hazard, and stakes every thing against scarce any thing. What the 
favourite of the King of Epirus said to his master, may be applied to 
men in all the ordinary situations of human Hfe, When the king had 
recounted to him, in their proper order, all the conquests which he pro- 
posed to make, and had come to the last of them ; And what does your 
Majesty propose to do then? said the favourite: — ^I propose then, said 
the king, to enjoy myself with my friends, and endeavour to be good 
company over a bottle. — ^And wlmt hinders your Majesty from doing 
so now? replied the favourite* In the most glittering and exalted 
situation that our idle fancy can hold out to us, the pleasures from 
which we propose to derive our real hapi»ness, are almost always the 
same with those which, in our actual, though Inunble station, we have 
at all times at hand, and in our power. Except the frivolous pleasures 
of vanity and superiority, we may find, in the most humble station, 
wheite there is only personal liberty, every other which the most exalted 
can afford ; and the pleasures of vanity and superiority are seldom con- 
sistent with perfect tranquillity, the principle and foundation of all real 
and satisfactory enjoyment Neither is it always certain that, in the 
splendid situation which we aim at, those real and satisfactory pleasures 
can be enjoyed with the same secturity as in the humble one which we 
are so very eager to abandon. Examine the records of history, recol- 
lect what has happened within the circle of your own experience, con- 
sider with attention what has been the conduct of almost all the greatly 
unfortunate, either in private or public life, whom you may have either 
read of, or heard of, or remember; and you will find that the misfor- 
tunes of by far the greater part of them have arisen from their not 
knowing when they were well, when it was proper for them to sit still 
and to be contented. The inscription upon the tomb-stone of the man 
who had endeavoured to mend a tolerable constitution by taking physic ; 
*/ was well; I wished to be better; here lamj^ may generally be 
apphed with great justness to the distress of disappointed avarice and 

It may be thought a singular, but I believe it to be a just, observation, 
that, in the misfortunes which admit of some remedy, the greater part 
of men do not either so readily or so universally recover their natural 
and usual tranquillity, as in those which plainly admit of none. In 
misfortunes of the latter kind, it is chiefly in what may be called the 
paroxysm, or in the first attack, that we can discover any sensible 
difference between the sentiments and behaviour of the wise and those 
of the weak man. In the end. Time, the great and universal comforter, 
gradually composes the weak man to the same degree of tranquillity 
which a regard to his own dignity, which manhood teaches the wise man 
to assume in the beginning. The case of the man with the wooden 


leg is an obvious example of this. In the irreparable misfortunes 
occasioned by the death of children, or of friends and relations, even a 
wise man may for some time indulge himself in some degree of mode- 
rated sorrow. An affectionate, but weak woman, is often, upon such 
occasions, almost perfectly distracted. Time, however, in a longer or 
shorter period, never fails to compose the weakest woman to the same 
degree of tranquillity as the strongest man. In all the irreparable 
calamities which affect himself immediately and directly, a wise man 
endeavours, from the beginning, to anticipate and to enjoy before-hand, 
that tranquillity which he foresees the course of a few months, or a few 
years, will certainly restore to him in the end. 

In the misfortunes for which the nature of things admits, or seems to 
admit, of a remedy, but in which the means of applying that remedy 
are not within the reach of the suflferer, his vain and fruitless attempts 
to restore himself to his former situation, his continual anxiety for their 
success, his repeated disappointments upon their miscarriage, are what 
chiefly hinder him from resuming his natural tranquillity, and frequently 
render miserable, during the whole of his life, a man to whom a greater 
misfortune, but which plainly admitted of no remedy, would not have 
given a fortnight's disturbance. In the fall from royal favour to dis- 
grace, from power to insignificancy, from riches to poverty, from liberty 
to confinement, from strong health to some lingering, chronical, and 
perhaps incurable disease, the man who struggles the least, who most 
easily and readily acquiesces in the fortune which has fallen to him, 
very soon recovers his usual and natural tranquillity, and surveys the 
most disagreeable circumstances of his actual situation in the same 
light, or, perhaps, in a much less unfavourable light, than that in which 
the most indifferent spectator is disposed to survey themu Faction, 
intrigue, and cabal, disturb the quiet of the unfortunate statesman. 
Extravagant projects, visions of gold mines, interrupt the repose of the 
ruined bankrupt The prisoner, who is continually plotting to escape 
from his confinement, cannot enjoy that careless security which even a 
prison can afford him. The medicines of the physician are often the 
greatest torment of the incurable patient The monk who, in order to 
comfort Joanna of Castile, upon the death of her husband Philip, told 
her of a king, who, fourteen years after his decease, had been restored 
to life again, by the prayers of his afflicted queen, was not likely, by 
his legendary tale, to restore sedateness to the distempered mind of 
that unhappy princess. She endeavoured to repeat the same experi- 
ment in hopes of the same success ; resisted for a long time the burial 
of her husband, soon after raised his body from the grave, attended it 
almost constantly herself, and watched, with all the impatient anxiety 
of frantic expectation, the happy moment when her wishes were to be 
gratified by the revival of her beloved Philip.* 

* See Robertson's Charles V. vol. ii. pp. 14 and 15, first edit. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 133 

Our sensibility to the feelings of others, so far from being incon- 
sistent with the manhood of self-command, is the very principle upon 
which that manhood is founded. The very same principle or instinct 
which, in the misfortune of our neighbour, prompts us to compassionate 
his sorrow ; in our own misfortune, prompts us to restrain the abject 
and miserable lamentations of our own sorrow. The same principle or 
instinct which, in his prosperity and success, prompts us to congratu- 
late his joy; in our own prosperity and success, prompts us to restrain 
the levity and intemperance of our own joy. In both cases, the pro- 
priety of our own sentiments and feelings seems to be exactly in pro- 
portion to the vivacity and force with which we enter into and conceive 
his sentiments and feelings. 

The man of the most perfect virtue, the man whom we naturally love 
and revere the most, is he who joins, to the most perfect command of 
his own original and selfish feelings, the most exquisite sensibility both 
to the original and sympathetic feelings of others. The man who, to 
all the soft, the amiable, and the gentle virtues, joins all the great, the 
awful, and the respectable, must surely be the natural and proper 
object of our highest love and admiration. 

The person best fitted by nature for acquiring the former of those 
two sets of virtues, is likewise necessarily best fitted for acquiring the 
latter. The man who feels the most for the joys and sorrows of others, 
is best fitted for acquiring the most complete control of his own- joys 
and sorrows. The man of the most exquisite humanity, is naturally 
the most capable of acquiring the highest degree of self-command. 
He may not, however, always have acquired it ; and it very frequently 
happens that he has not He may have lived too much in ease and 
tranquillity. He may have never been exposed to the violence of 
faction, or to the hardships and hazards of war. He may have never 
experienced the insolence of his superiors, the jealous and malignant 
envy of his equals, or the pilfering injustice of his inferiors. When, in 
an advanced age, some accidental change of fortune exposes him to all 
these, they all make too great an impression upon him. He has the 
disposition which fits him for acquiring the most perfect self-command ; 
but he has never had the opportunity of acquiring it. Exercise and 
practice have been wanting ; and without these no habit can ever be 
tolerably established. Hardships, dangers, injuries, misfortunes, are 
the only masters under whom we can learn the exercise of this virtue. 
But these are all masters to whom nobody willingly puts himself to 

The situations in which the gentle virtue of humanity can be most 
happily cultivated, are by no means the same with those which are 
best fitted for forming the austere virtue of self-command. The man 
who is himself at ease can best attend to the distress of others. The 
man who is himself exposed to hardships is most immediately called 


Upon to attend to, and to control his own feelings. In the mild sun- 
-shine of undisturbed tranquillity, in the calm retirement of undissipated 
and philosophical leisure, the soft virtue of humanity flourishes the 
most, and is capable of the highest improvement But, in such situa- 
tions, the greatest and noblest exertions of self-conmiand have httle 
exercise. Under the boisterous and stormy sky of war and faction, of 
public tumult and confusion, the sturdy severity of self-command pros- 
pers the most, and can be the most successfully cultivated. But, in 
such situations, the strongest suggestions of humanity must frequently 
be stifled or neglected ; and every such neglect necessarily tends to 
weaken the principle of humanity. As it may frequently be the duty 
of a soldier not to take, so it may sometimes be his duty not to give 
quarter ; and the humanity of the man who has been several times 
under the necessity of submitting to this disagreeable duty, can scarce 
fail to suffer a considerable diminution. For his own ease, he is too 
apt to learn to make light of the misfortunes which he is so often tmder 
the necessity of occasioning ; and the situations which call ^rth the 
noblest exertions of self-command,- by imposing the necessity of violat- 
ing sometimes the property, and sometimes the life of our neighbour, 
always tend to diminish, and too often to extinguish altogether, that 
sacred regard to both, which is the foundation of justice and humanity. 
It is upon this account, that we so frequently find in the world men of 
great humanity who have little self-conunand, but who are indolent 
and irresolute, and easily disheartened, either by difficulty or danger, 
from the most honourable pursuits ; and, on the contrary, men of the 
most perfect self-command, whom no di£6culty can discourage, no 
danger appal, and who are at all times ready for the most daring and 
desperate enterprises, but who, at the same time, seem to be hardened 
against all sense either of justice or humanity. 

In solitude, we are apt to feel too strongly whatever relates to our- 
selves : we are apt to over-rate the good offices we may have done, 
and the injuries we may have suffered : we are apt to be too much 
elated by our own good, and too much dejected by our own bad for- 
tune. The conversation of a friend brings us to a better, that of a 
stranger to a still better, temper. The man within the breast, the 
abstract and ideal spectator of our sentiments and conduct, requires 
often to be awakened and put in mind of his duty, by the presence of 
the real spectator : and it is always from that spectator, from whom 
we can expect the least sympathy and indulgence, that we are likely to 
learn the most coriiplete lesson of self-command. 

Are you in adversity ? Do not mourn in the darkness of solitude, 
do not regulate your sorrow according to the indulgent sympathy oif 
your intimate friends ; return, as soon as possible, to the daylight of 
the world and of society. Live with strangers, with those who know 
nothing, or care nothing about your misfortune ; do not even shun the 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 13s 

company of enemies ; but give yourself the pleasure of mortifying their 
malignant joy, by making them feel how little you are affected by your 
calamity, and how much you are above it 

Are you in prosperity ? Do not confine the enjoyment of your good 
fortune to your own house,, to the company of your own friends, per- 
haps of your flatterers, of those who build upon your fortune the hopes 
of mending their own ; frequent those who are independent of you, 
who can value you only for your character and conduct, and not for 
your fortune. Neither seek nor shun, neither intrude yourself into nor 
run away from the society of those who were once your superiors, and 
who may be hurt at finding you their equal, or, perhaps, even their 
superior. The impertinence of their pride may, perhaps, render their 
company too disagreeable : but if it should not, be assured that it is 
the best company you can possibly keep ; and if, by the simplicity of 
your unassuming demeanour, you can gain their favour and kindness, 
you may rest satisfied that you are modest enough, and that your head 
has been in no respect turned by your good fortune. 

The propriety of our moral sentiments is never so apt to be cor- 
rupted, as when the indulgent and partial spectator is at hand, while 
the indifferent and impartial one is at a great distance. 

Of the conduct of one independent nation towards another, neutral 
nations are the only indifferent and impartial spectators. But they 
are placed at so great a distance that they are almost quite out of 
s^ht. When two nations are at variance, the citizen of each pays 
little regard to the sentiments which foreign nations may entertain 
concerning his conduct. His whole ambition is to obtain the appro- 
bation of his own fellow-citizens ; and as they are all animated by the 
same hostile passions which animate himself, he can never please them 
so much as by enraging and oflaiding their enemies. The partial 
spectator is at hand : the impartial one at a great distance. In war 
and negotiation, therefore, the laws of justice are very seldom observed. 
Truth and fair dealing are almost totally disregarded. Treaties are 
violated ; and the violation, if some advantage is gained by it, sheds 
scarce any dishonour upon the violator. The ambassador who dupes 
the minister of a foreign nation, is admired and applauded. The just 
man who disdains either to take or to give any advantage, but who 
would think it less dishonourable to give than to take one ; the man 
who, in aH private transactions, would be the most beloved and the 
most esteemed ; in those public transactions is regarded as a fool and 
an idiot, who does not understand his business ; and he incurs always 
the contempt, and sometimes even the detestation of his fellow-citizens. 
In war, not only what are called the laws of nations, are frequently vio- 
lated, without bringing (among his own fellow-citizens, whose judg- 
ments he only regards) any considerable dishonour upon the violator ; 
but those laws themselves are, the greater part of them, laid down with 


very little regard to the plainest and most obvious niles of justice. 
That the innocent, though they may have some connexion or depend- 
ency upon the guilty (which, perhaps, they themselves cannot help), 
should not, upon that account, suffer or be punished for the guilty, is 
one of the plainest and most obvious rules of justice. In the most 
unjust war, however, it is commonly the sovereign or the rulers only 
who are guilty. The subjects are almost always perfectly innocent 
Whenever it suits the conveniency of a public enemy, however, the 
goods of the peaceable citizens are seized both at land and at sea; 
their lands are laid waste, their houses are burnt, and they themselves, 
if they presume to make any resistance, are murdered or led into cap- 
tivity ; and all this in the most perfect conformity to what are called 
the laws of nations. 

The animosity of hostile factions, whether civil or ecclesiastical, is 
often still more furious than that of hostile nations ; and their conduct 
towards one another is often still more atrocious. What may be called 
the laws of faction have often been laid down by grave authors with 
still less regard to the rules of justice than what are called the laws of 
nations. The most ferocious patriot never stated it as a serious ques- 
tion. Whether faith ought to be kept with public enemies ? — Whether 
faith ought to be kept with rebels ? Whether faith ought to be kept 
with heretics ? are questions which have been often furiously s^tated 
by celebrated doctors both civil and ecclesiastical. It is needless to 
observe, I presume, that both rebels and heretics are those unlucky 
persons, who, when things have come to a certain degree of violence, 
have the misfortune to be of the weaker party. In a nation distracted 
by faction, there are, no doubt, always a few, though commonly but a 
very few, who preserve their judgment untainted by the general conta- 
gion. They seldom amount to more than, here and there, a solitary 
individual, without any influence, excluded, by his own candour, from 
the confidence of either party, and who, though he may be one of the 
wisest, is necessarily, upon that very account, one of the most insigni- 
ficant men in the society. All such people are held in contempt and 
derision, frequently in detestation, by the zealots of both psirties. 

A true party-man hates and despises candour ; and, in reality, there 
is no vice which could so effectually disqualify him for the trade of a 
party-man as that single virtue. The real, revered, and impartial spec- 
tator, therefore, is, upon no occasion, at a greater distance than amidst 
the violence and rage of contending parties. To them, it may be said, 
that such a spectator scarce exists any where in the universe. Even 
to the great Judge of the universe, they impute all their own prejudices, 
and often view that Divine Being as animated by all their own vindic- 
tive and implacable passions. Of all the corrupters of moral senti- 
ments, therefore, faction and fanaticism have always been by far the 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 137 

Concerning the subject of self-command, I shall only observe further, 
that our admiration for the man who, under the heaviest and most un- 
expected misfortunes, continues to behave with fortitude and firmness, 
always supposes that his sensibility to those misfortunes is very great, 
and such as it requires a very great effort to conquer or command. The 
man who was altogether insensible to bodily pain, could deserve no 
applause from enduring the torture with the most perfect patience and 
equanimity. The man who had been created without the natural fear of 
death, could claim no merit from preserving his coolness and presence 
of mind in the midst of the most dreadful dangers. It is one of the 
extravagancies of Seneca, that the Stoical wise man was, in this respect, 
superior even to a god ; that the security of the god was altogether 
the benefit of nature, which had exempted him from suffering ; but that 
the security of the wise man was his own benefit, and derived altogether 
from himself and from his own exertions. 

The sensibility of some men, however, to some of the objects which 
immediately affect themselves, is sometimes so strong as to render all 
self-command impossible. No sense of honour can control the fears of 
the man who is weak enough to faint, or to fall into convulsions, upon 
the approach of danger. Whether such weakness of nerves, as it has 
been called, may not, by gradual exercise and proper discipline, admit 
of some cure, may, perhaps, be doubtfuL It seems certain that it ought 
never to be trusted or employed: 

Chap. W.-^Of the Nature of Self -deceit^ and of the Origin and Use of 
general Rules, 

In order to pervert the rectitude of our own judgments concerning the 
propriety of our own conduct, it is not always necessary that the real 
and impartial spectator should be at a great distance. When he is at 
hand, when he is present, the violence and injustice of our own selfish 
passions are sometimes sufficient to induce the man within the breast 
to make a report very different from what the real circumstances of the 
case are capable of authorising. 

There are two different occasions upon which we examine our own 
conduct, and endeavour to view it in the light in which the impartial 
spectator would view it : first, when we are about to act ; and secondly, 
after we have acted. Our views are apt to be very partial in both 
cases ; but they are apt to be most partial when it is of most import- 
ance that they should be otherwise. 

When we are about to act, the eagerness of passion will seldom allow 
us to consider what we are doing, with the candour of an indifferent 
person. The violent emotions which at that time agitate us, discolour 
our views of thin|;3| even when we are endeavouring to place ourselves 



in the situation of another, and to regard the objects that interest 
us in the light in which they will naturally appear to him. The fury of 
our own passions constantly calls us back to our own place, where 
every thing appears magnified and misrepresented by self-love. Of the 
manner in which those objects would appear to another, of the view 
which he would take of them, we can obtain, if I may say so, but in- 
stantaneous glimpses, which vanish in a moment, and which, even while 
they last, are not altogether just. We cannot even for that moment 
divest ourselves entirely of the heat and keenness with which our pecu- 
liar situation inspires us, nor consider what we are about to do with the 
complete impartiality of an equitable judge. The passions, upon this 
account, as Father Malebranche says, all justify themselves, and seem 
reasonable and propoBtioned to their objects, as long as we continue to 
feel them. 

When the action is over, indeed, and the passions which prompted 
it have subsided, we can enter more coolly into the sentiments of the 
indifferent spectator. What before interested us is now become almost 
as indifferent to us as it always was to him, and we can itow examine 
our own conduct with his candour .and impartiality. The man of to- 
day is no longer agitated by the same passions which distracted the 
man of yesterday : and when the paroxysm of emotion, in the same 
manner as when the paroxysm of distress, is fairly over, we can 
identify ourselves, as it were, with the ideal man within the breast, 
and, in our own character, view, as in the one case, our own situa- 
tion, so in the other, our own conduct, with the severe eyes of the most 
impartial spectator. But our judgments now are often of little import- 
ance in comparison of what they were before ; and can frequently 
produce nothing but vain regret and unavailing repentance ; without 
always securing us from the like errors in time to come. It is seldom, 
however, that they are quite candid even in this case. The opinion 
which we entertain of our own character depends entirely on our judg- 
ment concerning our past conduct. It is so disagreeable to think ill of 
ourselves, that we often purposely turn away our view from those cir- 
cumstances which might render that judgment unfavourable. He is a 
bold surgeon, they say, whose hand does not tremble when he performs 
an operation upon his own person ; and he is often equally bold who 
does not hesitate to pull off the mysterious veil of self-delusion, which 
covers from his view the deformities of his own conduct. Rather than 
see our own behaviour under so disagreeable an aspect, we too oflen, 
foolishly and weakly, endeavour to exasperate anew those unjust pas- 
sions which had formerly misled us ; we endeavour by artifice to 
awaken our old hatreds, and irritate afresh our almost forgotten re- 
sentments : we even exert ourselves for this miserable purpose, and 
thus persevere in injustice, merely because we once were unjust, and 
because we are ashamed and afraid to see that we were so. 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 139 

So partial are the views of mankind with regard to the propriety of 
their own conduct, both at the time of action and after it ; and so 
difficult is it for them to view it in the light in which any indifferent 
spectator would consider it. But if it was by a peculiar faculty, such 
as the moral sense is supposed to be, that they judged of their own con- 
duct, if they were endued with a particular power of perception which dis- 
tinguished the beauty or deformity of passions and affections ; as their 
passions would be more immediately exposed to the view of this faculty, 
it would judge more accurately concerning them, than concerning those 
of other men, of which it had only a more distant prospect. 

This sdf-deceit, this fatal weakness of mankind, is the source of half 
the disorders of human life. If we saw ourselves in the light in which 
others see us, or in which they would see us if they knew all, a reform- 
ation would generally be unavoidable. We could not otherwise en- 
dure the sight exposed to us. 

Nature, however, has not left this weakness, which is of so much im- 
portance, altogether without a remedy; nor has she abandoned us 
entirely to the delusions of self-love. Our continual observations upon 
the conduct of others, insensibly lead us to form to ourselves certain 
general rules concerning what is fit and proper either to be done or to 
be avoided. Some of their actions shock all our natural sentiments. 
We hear every body about us express the like detestation against them. 
This still further confirms, and even exasperates our natural sense of 
their deformity. It satisfies us that we view them in the proper light, 
when we see other people view them in the same light. We resolve 
never to be guilty of thb like, nor ever, upon any account, to render our- 
selves in this manner the objects of universal disapprobation. We 
thus naturally lay down to ourselves a general rule, that all such actions 
are to be avoided, as tending to render us odious, contemptible, or 
punishable, the objects of all those sentiments for which we have the 
greatest dread and aversion. Other actions, on the contrary, call forth 
our approbation, and we hear every body around us express the same 
favourable opinion concerning them. Every body is eager to honour 
and reward them. They excite all those sentiments for which we have 
by nature tlie strongest desire ; the love, the gratitude, the admiration 
of mankind. We become ambitious of performing the like ; and thus 
naturally lay down to ourselves a rule of another kind, that every op- 
portunity of acting in this manner is to be sought after. 

It is thus that the general rules of morality are formed. They are 
ultimately founded upon experience of what, in particular instances, 
our moral faculties, our natural sense of merit and propriety, approve, 
or disapprove of. We do not originally approve or condemn particular 
actions ; because, upon examination, they appear to be agreeable or 
inconsistent with a certain general rule. The general rule, on the con- 
trary, is formed, by finding from experience, that all actions of a cer* 

10 • 


tain kind, or circumstanced in a certain manner, are approved or dis- 
approved of. To the man who first saw an inhuman murder, conmiitted 
from avarice, envy, or unjust resentment, and upon one too that loved 
and trusted the murderer, who beheld the last agonies of the dying per- 
son, who heard him, with his expiring breath, complain more of the 
perfidy and ingratitude of his false friend, than of the violence which 
had been done to him, the^e could be no occasion, in order to conceive 
how horrible such an action was, that he should reflect, that one of the 
most sacred rules of conduct was what prohibited the taking away the 
life of an innocent person, that this was a plain violation of that rule, 
and consequently a very blamable action. His detestation of this crime, 
it is evident, would arise instantaneously and antecedent to his having 
formed to himself any such gener^ rule. The general rule, on the con- 
trary, which he might afterwards form, would be founded upon the de- 
testation which he felt necessarily arise in his own breast, at the thought 
of this and every other particular action of the same kind. 

When we read in history or romance, the account of actions either 
of generosity or of baseness, the admiration which we conceive for the 
one, and the contempt which we feel for the other, neither of them 
arise from reflecting that there are certain general rules which declare 
all actions of the one kind admirable, and all actions of the other con- 
temptible. Those general rules, on the contrary, are all formed from 
the experience we have had of the effects which actions of all different 
kinds naturally produce upon us. 

An amiable action, a respectable action, an horrid action, are all of 
them actions which naturally excite for the person who performs them, 
the love, the respect, or the horror of the spectator. The general rules 
which determine what actions are, and what are not, the objects of 
^ each of those sentiments, can be formed no other way than by observ- 
ing what actions actually and in fact excite them. 

When these general rules, indeed, have been formed, when they are 
universally acknowledged and established, by the concurring senti- 
^ ments of mankind, we frequently appeal to them as to the standards of 
judgment, in debating concerning the degree of praise or blame that 
is due to certain actions of a complicated and dubious nature. They 
ar^ upon these occasions commonly cited as the ultimate foimdations 
of what is just and unjust in human conduct ; and this circumstance 
seems to have misled several very eminent authors, to draw up their 
systems in such a manner, as if they had supposed that the original 
judgments of mankind with regard to right and wrong, were formed 
like the decisions of a court of judicatory, by considering first the 
general rule, and then, secondly, whether Uie particular action imder 
consideration fell properly within its comprehension. 

Those general rules of conduct, when they have been fixed in our 
mind by habitual reflection, are of great use in correcting the misrepre- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 14Z 

ifentations of self-love concerning what is fit and proper to be done in 
our particular situation* The man of furious resentment, if he was to 
listen to the dictates of that passion, would perhaps regard the death 
of his enemy, a^ but a small compensation for the wrong, he imagines, 
he has received ; which, however, may be no more than a very slight 
provocation. But his observations upon the conduct of others, have 
taught him how horrible all such sanguinary revenges appear. Unless 
his education has been very singular, he has laid it down to himself as 
an inviolable rule, to abstain from them upon all occasions. This rule 
preserves its authority with him, and renders him incapable of being 
guilty of such a violence. Yet the fury of his own temper may be such, 
that' had this been the first time in which he considered such an action, 
he would undoubtedly have determined it to be quite just and proper, 
and what every impartial spectator would approve of. But that reve- 
rence for the rule which past experience has impressed upon him, 
checks the impetuosity of his passion, and helps him to correct the too 
partial views which self-love might otherwise suggest, of what was 
proper to be done in his situation. If he should allow himself to be 
so far transported by passion as to violate this rule, yet, even in this 
case, he cannot throw off altogether the awe and respect with which 
he has been accustomed to regard it At the very time of acting, at 
the moment in which passion mounts the highest, he hesitates and 
trembles at the thought of what he is about to do : he is secretly con- 
scious to himself that he is breaking through those measures of con- 
duct which, in all his cool hours, he had resolved never to infringe, 
which he had never seen infringed by others without the highest dis- 
approbation, and of which the infringement, his own mind forebodes, 
must soon render him the object of the same disagreeable sentiments. 
Before he can take the last fatal resolution, he is tormented with all 
the agonies of doubt and uncertainty ; he is terrified at the thought of 
violating so sacred a rule, and at the same time is urged and goaded 
on by the fury of his desires to violate it He changes his purpose 
every moment ; sometimes he resolves to adhere to his principle, and 
not indulge a passion which may corrupt the remaining part of his 
life with the horrors of shame and repentance ; and a momentary calm 
takes possession of his breast, from the prospect of that security and 
tranquillity which he will enjoy when he thus determines not to expose 
himself to the hazard of a contrary conduct But immediately the 
passion rouses anew, and with fresh fury drives him on to commit what 
he had the instant before resolved to abstain from. Wearied and dis- 
tracted with those continual irresolutions, he at length, from a sort of 
despair, makes the last fatal and irrecoverable step; but with diat 
terror and amazement with which one flying from an enemy, throws 
himself over a precipice, where he is sure of meeting with more certain 
destruction than from any thing that pursues him from behind Such 


are his sentiments even at the time of acting; though he is then, no 
doubt, less sensible of the impropriety of his own conduct than after- 
wards, when his passion being gratified and palled, he begins to view 
what he has done in the light in which others are apt to view it; and 
actually feels, what he had only foreseen very imperfectly before, the 
stings of remorse and repentance begin to agitate and torment him. 

ChAp. V,—^Of the Influence and Authority of the general Rules of 
Morality, and that they are justly regarded as the Laws of the 
Deity. , 

The regard of those general rules of conduct, is ^hat is properly called 
a sense of duty, a principle of the greatest consequence in human life, 
and the only principle by which the bulk of mankind are capable of 
directing their actions. Many men behave very decently, and through 
the whole of their lives avoid any considerable degree of blame, who 
yet, perhaps, never felt the sentiment upon the propriety of which we 
found our approbation of their conduct, but acted merely from a regard 
to what they saw were the established rules of behaviour. The man 
who has received great benefits from another person, may, by the 
natural coldness of his temper, feel but a very small degree of the 
sentiment of gratitude. If he has been virtuously educated, however, 
he will often have been made to observe how odious those actions 
appear which denote a want of this sentiment, and how amiable the 
contrary. Though his heart therefore is not warmed with any grateful 
affection, he will strive to act as if it was, and will endeavour to pay all 
those regards and attentions to his patron which the liveliest gratitude 
could suggest. He will visit him regularly ; he will behave to him re- 
spectfully ; he will never talk of him but with expressions of the highest 
esteem, and of the many obligations which he owes to him. And what 
is more, he will carefully embrace every opportunity of making a proper 
return for past services. He may do all this too without any hypocrisy 
or blamable dissimulation, without any selfish intention of obtaining 
new favours, and without any design of imposing either upon his bene- 
factor or the public. The motive of his actions may be no other than 
a reverence for the established rule of duty, a serious and earnest desire 
of acting, in every respect, according to the law of gratitude. A wife, 
in the same manner, may sometimes not feel that tender regard for her 
husband which is suitable to the relation that subsists between them. 
If she has been virtuously educated, however, she will endeavour to act 
as if she felt it, to be careful, officious, faithful, and sincere, and to be 
deficient in none of those attentions which the sentiment of conjugal 
affection could have prompted her to perform. Such a friend, and 
such a wife, are neither of them, undoubtedly, the very best of their 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 143 

kinds; and though both of them may have the most serious and earnest 
desire to fulfil every part of their duty, yet they will fail in many nice 
and delicate regards, they will miss many opportunities of obliging, 
which they could never, have overlooked if they had possessed the 
sentiment that id proper to their situation. Though not the very first 
of their kinds, however, they are perhaps the second; and if the regard 
to the general rules of conduct has been very strongly impressed upon 
them, neither of them will fail in any very essential part of their duty. 
None but those of the happiest mould are capable of suiting, with exact 
V justness, their sentiments and behaviour to the smallest difference of 
situation, and of acting upon all occasions with the most delicate and 
accurate propriety. The coarse clay of which the bulk of mankind 
are formed, cannot be wrought up to such perfection. There is scarce 
any man, however, who by discipline, education, and example, may not 
be so impressed with a regard to general rules, as to act upon almost 
every occasion with tolerable decency, and through the whole of his 
life to avoid any considerable degree of blame. 

Without this Sacred regard to general rules, there is no man whose 
conduct can be much depended upon. It is this which constitutes the 
most essential difference between a man of principle and honour and a 
worthless fellow. The one adheres, on all occasions, steadily and re- 
solutely to his maxims, aiid preserves through the whole of his life one 
even tenor of conduct The other, acts variously and accidentally, as 
humour, inclination, or interest chance to be uppermost. Nay, such 
are the inequalities of humour to which all men are subject^ that with- 
out this principle, the man who, in all his cool hours, had the most 
delicate sensibility to the propriety, of conduct, might often be led to 
act absurdly upon the most frivolous occasions, and when it was scarce 
possible to assign any serious motive for his behaving in this manner. 
Your friend makes you a visit when you happen to be in a humour 
which makes it disagreeable to receive him : in your present mood his 
civility is very apt to appear an impertinent intrusion ; and if you were 
to give way to the views of things which at this time occur, though civil 
in your temper, you would behave to him with coldness and contempt 
What renders you incapable of such a rudeness, is nothing but a regard 
to the general rules of civility and hospitality, which prohibit it. That 
habitual reverence which your former experience has taught you for 
these, enables you to act, upon all such occasions, with nearly equal 
propriety, and hinders those inequalities of temper, to which all men 
are subject, from influencing your conduct in any very sensible degree. 
But if without regard to these general rules, even the duties of polite- 
ness, which are so easily observed, and which one can scarce have any 
serious motive to violate, would yet be so frequently violated, what 
would become of the duties of justice, of truth, of chastity, of fidelity, 
which it is often so difficult to observe, and which there may be so 


many strong motives to violate ? But upon the tolerable observance of 
these duties depends the very existence of human society, which would 
crumble into nothing if mankind were not generally hnpressed with a 
reverence for those important rules of conduct 

This reverence is still further enhanced by an opinion which is first 
impressed by nature, and afterwards confirmed by reasoning and philo- 
sophy, that those important rules of morality are the commands and 
laws of the Deity, who will finally reward the obedient and punish the 
transgressors of their duty. 

This opinion or apprehension, I say, seems first to be impressed by 
nature. Men are'' naturally led to ascribe to those mysterious beings, 
whatever they are, which happen, in any country to be the objects of 
religious fear, all their own sentiments and passions. They have no 
. other, they can conceive no other to ascribe to theuL Those unknown 
intelligences which they imagine but see not, must necessarily be formed 
with some sort of resemblance to those intelligences of which they 
have experience. During the ignorance and darkness of pagan super- 
stition, mankind sd^m to have formed the ideas of their divinities with 
so little delicacy, that they ascribed to them, indiscriminately, all the 
passions of human nature, those not excepted which do the least 
honour to our species, such as lust, hunger, avarice, envy, revenge. They 
could not fail, therefore, to ascribe to those beings, for the excellence of 
whose nature they still conceived the highest admiration, those senti- 
ments and qualities which are the great ornaments of humanity, and 
which seem to raise it to a resemblance of divine perfection, the love 
of virtue and beneficence, and the abhorrence of vice and injustice. 
The man who was injured, called upon Jupiter to be witness of the 
wrong that was done to him, and could not doubt, but that divine 
being would behold it with the same indignation which would animate 
the meanest of mankind, who looked on when injustice was conmiitted. 
The man who did the injury, felt himself to be the proper object of the 
detestation and resentment of mankind ; and his natural fears led him 
to impute the same sentiments to those awful beings, whose presence 
he could not avoid, and whose power he could not resist These natural 
hopes, and fears, and suspicions, were propagated by sympathy, and 
confirmed by education; and the gods were universally represented 
and believed to be the rewarders of humanity and mercy, and the 
avengers of perfidy and injustice. And thus religion, even in its rudest 
form, gave a sanction to the rules of morality, long before the age of 
artificial reasoning and philosophy. That the terrors of religfion should 
thus enforce the natural sense of duty, was of too much importance to 
the happiness of mankind, for nature to leave it dependent upon the 
slowness and uncertainty of philosophical researches. 

These researches, however, when they came to take place, confirmecl 
^ those original anticipations of nature. Upon whatever we suppose that 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. I4S 

moral faculties are founded, whether upon a certain modification of / 
reason, upon an original instinct, called a moral sense, or upon some 
other principle of our nature, it cannot be doubted, that they were 
given us for the direction of our conduct in this life. They carry along 
with them the most evident badges of this authority, which denote that 
they were set up within us to be the supreme arbiters of all our actions, 
to superintend all our senses, passions, and appetites, and to judge how 
each of them was either to be indulged or restrained Our moral 
faculties are by no means, as some have pretended, upon a level in this 
respect with the other faculties and appetites of our nature, endowed 
with no more right to restrain these last, than these last are to restrain 
them. No other faculty or principle of action judges of any other. 
Love does not judge of resentment, nor resentment of love. Those 
two passions may be opposite to one another, but cannot, with any 
propriety, be said to approve or disapprove of one another. But it is 
the peculiar office of those faculties now under our consideration to 
judge, to bestow censure or applause upon all the other principles of 
our nature. They may be considered as a sort of senses of which those 
principles are the objects. Every sense is supreme over its own objects. 
There is no appeal from the eye with regard to the beauty of colours, 
nor from the ear with regard to the harmony of sounds, nor from the 
taste with regard to the agreeableness of flavours. Each of those senses 
judges in the last resort of its own objects. Whatever gratifies the taste is 
sweet, whatever pleases the eye is beautiful, whatever soothes the ear is 
harmonious. The very essence of each of those qualities consists in 
its being fitted to please the sense to which it is addressed. It belongs 
to our moral faculties, in the same manner to determine when the ear 
ought to be soothed, when the eye ought to be indulged, when the taste 
ought to be gratified, when and how far every other principle of our 
nature ought either to be indulged or restrained. What is agree- 
able to our moral faculties, is fit, and right, and proper to be done ; the 
contrary wrong, unfit, and improper. The sentiments which they 
approve of, are graceful and becoming : the contrary, ungraceful and 
unbecoming. The very words, right, wrong, fit, improper, graceful, 
unbecoming, mean only what pleases or displeases those faculties. 

Since these, therefore, were plainly intended to be the governing 
principles of human nature, the rules which they prescribe are to be 
regarded as the conmiands and laws of the Deity, promulgated by those 
vicegerents which he has thus set up within us. All general rules are 
commonly denominated laws : thus the general rules which bodies 
observe in the communication of motion, are called the laws of motion. 
But those general rules which our moral faculties observe in approving 
or condemning whatever sentiment or action is subjected to their exami- 
nation, may much more justly be denominated such. They have a 
much greater resemblance to what are properly called laws, those 


general rules which the sovereign lays down to direct the conduct of 
his subjects. Like them they are rules to direct the free actions of 
men : they are prescribed most surely by a lawful superior, and are 
attended too with the sanction of rewards and punishments. Those 
vicegerents of God within us, never fail to punish the violation of them, 
by the torments of inward shame, and self-condemnation ; and on the 
contrary, always reward obedience with tranquillity of mind, with full 
contentment and self-satisfaction. 

There are innumerable other considerations which serve to confirm 
the same conclusion. The hairiness, of mankind, as well as of all 
other rational creatures, seems to have been the original purpose in- 
tended by the Author of nature, when he brought them into existence. 
No other end seems worthy of that supreme wisdom and divine benig- 
nity which we necessarily ascribe to him ; and this opinion, which we 
are led to by the abstract consideration of his infinite perfections, is 
still more confirmed by the examination of the works of nature, which 
seem all intended to promote happiness, and to guard against mfsery. 
But by acting accordingly to the dictates of our moral faculties, we 
necessarily pursue the most effectual means for promoting the happi- 
ness of mankind, and may therefore be said, in some sense, to co-oper- 
ate with the Deity, and to advance as far as in our power the plan 
of Providence. By acting otherwise, on the contrary, we seem to 
obstruct, in some measure, the scheme which the Author of nature has 
established for the happiness and perfection of the world, and to 
declare ourselves, if I may say so, in some measure the enemies of 
God. Hence we are naturally encouraged to hope for his extraordinary 
favour and reward in the one case, and to dread his sure vengeance 
and punishment in the other. 

There are besides many other reasons, and many other natural 
principles, which all tend to confirm and inculcate the same salutary 
doctrine. If we consider the general rules by which external pros- 
perity and adversity are conmioniy distributed in this life, we shall find, 
that notwithstanding the disorder in which all things appear to be. in 
this world, yet even here every virtiie naturally meets with its proper 
reward, with the recompense which is most fit to encourage and pro- 
mote it ; and this too so surely, that it requires a very extraordinary 
concurrence of circumstances entirely to disappoint it What is the 
reward most proper for encouraging industry,; prudence, and circum- 
spection ? Success in every sort of business. And is it possible that 
in the whole of life these virtues should fail of attaining it ? Wealth 
and external honours are their proper recompense, and the recompense 
which they can seldom fail of acquiring. What reward is most proper 
for promoting the practice of truth, justice, and humanity ? The confi- 
dence, the esteem, the love of those we live with. Humanity does not 
desire to be great, but to be beloved. It is not in being rich that truth 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 147 

and justice would rejoice, but in being tmsted and believed, recom- 
penses which those virtues must almost always acquire. By some very 
extraordinary and unlucky circumstance, a good man may come to be 
suspected of a crime a( which he was altogether incapable, and upon 
that account be most unjustly exposed for the remaining part of his 
life to the horror and aversion of mankind. By an accident of this 
kind he may be said to lose his all, notwithstanding his integrity and 
justice ; in the same manner as a cautious man, notwithstanding his 
utmost circumspection, may be ruined by an earthquake or an inunda- 
tion. Accidents of the first kind, however, are perhaps still more rare, 
and still more contrary to the common coui'se of things than those of 
the second; and it still remains true, that the practice of truth, 
justice, and humanity is a certain and almost infallible method of 
acquiring what these virtues chiefly aim at, the confidence and love of 
those we live with. A person may be very easily misrepresented with, 
regard to a particular action ; but it is scarce possible that he should 
be so with regard to the general tenor of his conduct An innocent 
man may be believed to have done wrong : this, however, will rarely 
happen. On the contrary, the established opinion of the innocence of 
his manners, will often lead us to absolve him where he has really been 
in the fault, notwithstanding very strong presumptions. A knave, in 
the same manner, may escape censure, or even meet with applause, for 
a particular knavery, in which his conduct is not understood. But no 
man was ever habitually sudi, without being almost universally known 
to be so, and without being even frequently suspected of guilt, when he 
was in reality perfectly innocent. And so far as vice and virtue can be 
either punished or rewarded by the sentiments and opinions of man- 
kind, they both, according to the common course of things meet even 
here with something more than exact and impartial justice. 

But though the general rules by which prbsperity and adversity are 
commonly distributed, when considered in this coo^ and philosophical 
light, appear to be perfectly suited to the situation of mankind in this 
life, yet they are by no means suited to some of our natural sentiments. 
Our naturad love and admiration for some virtues is such, that we 
should wish to bestow on them aU sorts of honours and rewards, even 
those which we must acknowledge to be the proper recompenses of 
other qualities, with which those virtues are not always accompanied. 
Our detestation, on the contrary, for some vices is such, that we should 
desire to heap upon them every sort of disgrace and disaster, those 
not excepted which are the natural consequences of very different 
qualities. Magnanimity, generosity, and justice, command so high a 
degree of admiration, that we desire to see them crowned with wealth, 
and power, and honours of every kind, the natural consequences of 
prudence, industry, and application ; qualities with which those virtues 
are not inseparably connected. Fraud, falsehood, brutality, and vio- 


lence, on the other hand, excite in every human breast such scorn and 
abhorrence, that our indignation rouses to see them possess those 
advantages which they may in some sense be said to have merited, by 
the diligence and industry with which they are sometimes attended. 
The industrious knave cultivates the soil , the indolent man leaves it 
uncultivated. Who ought to reap the harvest ? Who starve, and who 
live in plenty ? The natural course of things decides it in favour of 
the knave ; the natural sentiments of mankind in favour of thie man of 
virtue. Man judges, that the good qualities of the one are greatly 
over-recompensed by those advantages which they tend to procure him, 
and that the omissions of the other are by far too severely punished by 
the distress which they naturally bring upon him ; and human laws, 
the consequences of human sentiments, forfeit the life and the estate of 
the industrious and cautious traitor, and reward, by extraordinary 
recompenses, the fidelity and public spirit of the improvident and care- 
less good citizen. Thus man is by Nature directed to correct, in some 
measure, that distribution of things which she herself would otherwise 
have made. The rules which for this purpose she prompts him to 
follow, are different from those which she herself observes. She be- 
stows upon every virtue, and upon every vice, that precise reward or 
punishment which is best fitted to encourage the one, or to restrain the 
other. She is directed by this sole consideration, and pays little regard 
to the different degrees of merit and demerit, which they may seem to 
possess in the sentiments and passions of man. Man, on the contrary, 
pays regard to this only, and would endeavour to render the state of 
every virtue precisely proportioned to that degree of love and esteem, 
and of every vice to that degree of contempt and abhorrence, which he 
himself conceives for it The 'rules which she follows are fit for her, 
as, those which he follows are for him : but both are calculated to pro- 
mote the same great end, the order of the world, and the perfection 
and happiness of human nature. 

But though man is thus employed to alter that distribution of things 
which natural events would make, if left to themselves ; though, like 
the gods of the poets, he is perpetually interposing, by extraordinary 
means, in favour of virtue, and in opposition to vice, and, like them, 
endeavours to turn away the arrow that is aimed at the head of the 
righteous, but to accelerate the sword of destruction that is Ufted up 
against the wicked ; yet he is by no means able to render the fortune 
of either quite suitable to his own sentiments and wishes. The natural 
course of things cannot be entirely controlled by the impotent endea- 
vours of man : the current is too rapid and too strong for him to stop 
it ; and though the rules which direct it appear to have been established 
for the wisest and best purposes, they sometimes produce effects which 
shock all his natural sentiments. That a great combination of men 
should prevail over a small one ; that those who engage in an enter- 

smith's theory op moral sektimemts. 149 

prise with forethought and all necessary preparation, should prevail 
over such as oppose them without any ; and that every end should be 
acquired by those means only which nature has established for acquir- 
ing it, seems to be a rule not only necessary and unavoidable in itself, 
but even useful and proper for rousing the industry and attention of 
mankind. Yet, when, in consequence of this rule, violence and artifice 
prevail over sincerity and justice, what indignation does it not excite in 
tbe breast of every human spectator ? What sorrow and compassion 
for the sufferings of the innocent, and what furious resentment against 
the success of the oppiressor ? We are equally grieved and enraged at 
the wrong that is done, but often find it altogether out of our power to 
redress it When we thus despair of finding any force upon earth 
which can check the triumph of injustice, we naturally appeal to heaven, 
and [hope that the great Author of our nature will himself execute 
hereafter what all the principles which he has given us for the direction 
of our conduct prompt us to attempt even here ; that he will complete 
the plan which he himself has thus taught us to begin ; and will, in a 
life to come, render to every one according to the works which he has 
performed in this world. And thus we are led to the belief of a future 
state, not only by the weaknesses, by the hopes and fears of human 
nature, but by the noblest and best principles which belong to it, by the 
love of virtue, and by the abhorrence of vice and injustice. 

* Does it suit the greatness of God,' says the eloquent and philosophical 
bishop of Clermont, with that passionate and exaggerating force of 
imagination, which seems sometimes to exceed the bounds of decorum; 
*does it suit die greatness of God, to leave the world which he has 

* created in so universal a disorder ? To see the wicked prevail almost 
'always over the just; the innocent dethroned by the usurper; the 
' father become the victim of the ambition of an unnatural son ; the 
'husband expiring under the stroke of a barbarous and faithless wife ? 

* From the height of his greatness ought God to behold those melan- 
'choly events as a fantastical amusement, without taking any share in 
'them? Because he is great, should he be weak, or unjust, or barba- 
'rous? Because men are little, ought they to be allowed either to be 
'dissolute without punishment or virtuous without reward? O God ! 
'if this is the character of your Supreme Being ; if it is you whom we 
'adore under such dreadful ideas ; I can no longer acknowledge you for 
'my father, for my protector, for the comforter of my sorrow, the sup- \ 
' port of my weakness, the rewarder of my fidelity. You would then be 
'no more than an indolent and fantastical tyrant, who sacrifices man- 
'kind to his vanity, and who has brought them out of nothing only to 
'make them serve for the sport of his leisure and of his caprice.' 

When the general rules which determine the merit and demerit of 
actions, come thus to be regarded as the laws of an all-powerful Being, 
who watches over our conduct, and, who, in a life to come, will reward 

IS© the; will of god should rule our conduct. 

the observance, aiid punish the breach of 'them ; they necessarily jaic- 
quire a new sacredness from tWs consideration. That our regard to the 
will of the Deity ought to be the supreme rule of our conduct, can be 
doubted of by nobody who believes his existence. The very thought 
of disobedience appears to involve in it the most shocldhg impropriety. 
How vain, how absuitl would it be for man, either to oppose or to neg- 
lect the commands that wete laid upon him by Infinite Wisdom, and 
Infinite Power ! How unnatural, how impiously ungratefiil, not to 
reverence the precepts that were prescribed to him by the infinite 
goodness of his Creator, even though no punishment was to follow 
their violation. The sense of propriety too is here well supported by 
the strongest motives of self-interest The idea that, however we may 
escape the observation of man, or be placed above the reach of human 
punishment, yet we are always acting imder the eye, and exposed to the 
punishment of God, the great avenger of injustice, is a motive capable 
of restraining the most headstrong passions, with those at least who, 
by constant reflection, have rendered it familiar to them. 

It is in this manner that religion enforces the natural sense of duty : 
and hence it is, that mankind are generally disposed to place great 
confidence in the probity of those who seem deeply impressed widi 
religious sentiments. Such persons, they imagine, act under an addi- 
tional tie, besides those which regulate the conduct of other men. The 
regard to the propriety of action, as well as to reputation, the regard to 
the applause of his own breast, as well as to that of others, are motives 
•which they suppose have the influence over the religious man, as over 
the man of the world. But the former lies under another restraint, and 
never acts deliberately but as in the presence of that Great Superior 
who is finally to recompense him according to his deeds. A greater 
trust is reposed, upon this account, in the regiilairity and exactness of 
his conduct And wherever the natural principles of religion are not 
corrupted by the factious and party zeal of some worthless cabal ; 
wherever the first duty which it requires, is to fulfil all the obligations 
of morality ; wherever men are hot taught to regard frivolous observ- 
ances, as more immediate duties of religion than acts of justice and 
beneficence ; and to imagine, that by sacrifices, and ceremonies, and 
vain supplications, they can baigain with the Deity for fraud, and per* 
fidy, and violence, the world undoubtedly judges right in this respect, 
and justly places a double confidence in the rectitude of the religious 
man's behaviour. 

Chap. VI.-— /« what Cases the S^nse of Duty ought to be the sole Prin- 
ciple of our Conduct; and in what Cases it ought to concur with other 
Religion affords such strong motives to the practice of virtue, and 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 151 

guards us by such powerful restraints from the temptations of vice, 
that many have been led to suppose, that religious principles were the 
sole laudable motives of action. We ought neither, they said, to reward 
from gratitude, nor punish from resentment ; we ought neither to pro- 
tect the helplessness of our children, nor afford support to the infirmi- 
ties of our parents, from natural affection. All affections for particular 
objects, ought to be extinguished in our breast, and one great affection 
take the place of aU others, the love of the Deity, the desire of render- 
ing ourselves agreeable to him, and of directing our conduct, in every 
respect, according to his will We ought not to be grateful from grati- 
tude, we ought not to be charitable from humanity, we ought not to be 
public-spirited from the love of our country, nor generous and just from 
the love of mankind. The sole principle and motive of our conduct in 
the performance of all those different duties, ought to be a sense that 
God has commanded us to perform them. I shall not at present take 
time to examine this opinion particularly ; I shall only observe, that we 
should not have expected to have found it entertained by any sect, who 
professed themselves of a religion in which, as it is the first precept to 
love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all- 
our strength, so it is the second to love our neighbour as we love our- 
selves ; and we love ourselves surely for our own sakes, and not merely 
because we are commanded to do so. That the sense of duty should 
be the sole principle of our conduct, is no where the precept of Christ- 
ianity ; but that it should be the ruUng and the governing one, as 
philosophy, and as, indeed, common sense directs. It may be a ques- 
tion, however, in what cases our actions ought to arise chiefly or entirely 
from a sense of duty, or from a regard to general rules ; and in what 
cases some other sentiment Qr affection ought to concur, and have a 
principal influence on our conduct 

The decision of this question, which cannot, perhaps, be given with 
any very great accuracy, will depend upon two different circumstances ; 
first, upon the natural agreeableness or deformity of the sentiment or 
affection which would prompt us to any action independent of all re- 
gard to general rules ; and, secondly, upon the precision and exact- 
ness, or the looseness and inaccuracy, of the rules themselves. 

I. First, I say, it will depend upon the natural agreeableness or 
deformity of the affection itself, how far our actions ought to arise 
from it, or entirely proceed from a regard to the general rule. 

All those graceful and admired actions, to which the benevolent 
affections would prompt us, ought to proceed as much from the passions 
themselves,, as from any regard to the general rules of conduct A 
benefactor thinks himself but ill requited, if the person upon whom he 
has bestowed his good offices, repays them merely from a cold sense of 
duty, and without any affection to his person. A husband is dissatisfied 
with the most obedient wife, when he imagines her conduct is animated 


by no other principle besides her regard to what the relation she stands 
in requires. Though a son should fail in none of the offices of filial 
duty, yet if he wants that affectionate reverence which it so well 
becomes him to fed, the parent may justly complain of his indifference. 
Nor could a son be quite satisfied with a parent who, though he per- 
formed all the duties of his situation, had nothing of that fatherly fond- 
ness which might have been expected from him. With regard to all 
such benevolent and social affections, it is agreeable to see the sense of 
duty employed rather to restrain than to enliven them, rather to hinder 
us from doing too much, than to prompt us to do what we ought It 
gives us pleasure to see a father obliged to check his own fondness for 
his children, a friend obliged to set bounds to his natural generosity, a 
person who has received a benefit, obliged to restrain the too sanguine 
gratitude of his own temper. 

The contrary maxim takes place with regard to the malevolent and 
unsocial passions. We ought to reward from the gratitude and gene- 
rosity of our own hearts, without any reluctance, and without being 
obliged to reflect how great the propriety of rewarding: but we ought 
always to punish with reluctance, and more from a sense of the pro- 
priety of punishing, than from any savage disposition to revenge. 
Nothing is more graceful than the behaviour of the man who appears 
to resent the greatest injuries, more from a sense that they deserve, and 
are the proper objects of resentment, than from feeling himself the 
furies of that disagreeable passion ; who, like a judge, considers only 
the general rule, which detennines what vengeance is due for each par- 
ticular offence ; who, in executing that rule, feels less for what himself 
has suffered, than for what the offender is about to suffer; who, though 
in wrath, does ever remember mercy, and is disposed to interpret the 
rule in the most gentle iand favourable manner, and to allow all the 
alleviations which the most candid humanity could, con^sistently with 
good sense, admit of. 

As the selfish passions, according to what has formerly been observed, 
hold, in other respects, a sort of middle place, between the social and 
unsocial affections, so do they likewise in this. The pursuit of the 
objects of private interest, in all common, little, and ordinary cases, 
ought to flow rather from a regard to the general rules which prescribe 
such conduct, than from any passion for the objects themselves ; but 
upon more important and extraordinary occasions, we should be awk- 
ward, insipid, and ungraceful, if the objects themselves did not appear 
to animate us with a considerable degree of passion. To be anxious, 
or to be laying a plot either to gain or to save a single shilling, would 
degrade the most vulgar tradesman in the opinion of all his neighbours. 
Let his circumstances be ever so mean, no attention to any such small 
matters, for the sake of the things them^lves, must appear in his con- 
duct His situation may require the most severe osconomy and the 

. smith's theory of moral sentiments. 153 

most exact assiduity : but each particular exertion of that oeconomy 
and assiduity must proceed, not so much from a regard for that par- 
ticular saving or gain, as for the general rule which to him prescribes, 
with the utmost rigour, such a tenor of conduct His parsimony to-day 
must not arise from a desire of the particular three-pence which he will 
save by it, nor his attendance in his shop from a passion for the par- 
ticular ten-pence which he will acquire by it : .both the one and the 
other ought to proceed solely from a regard to the general rule, which 
prescribes, with the most unrelenting severity, this plan of conduct to 
all persons in his way of life. In this consists the difference between 
the character of a miser and that of a person of exact oeconomy and 
assiduity. The one is anxious about small matters for their own sake; 
the other attends to them only in consequence of the scheme of life 
which he has laid down to himself. 

It is quite otherwise with regard to the more extraordinary and 
important objects of self-interest. A person appears mean-spirited, 
who does not pursue these with some degree of earnestness for their 
own sake. We should despise a prince who was not anxious about 
conquering or defending a province. We should have little respect for 
a private gentleman who did not exert himself to gain an estate, or even 
a considerable office, when he could acquire them without either mean- 
ness or injustice. A member of parliament who shews no keenness 
about his own election, is abandoned by his friends, as altogether 
unworthy of their attachment. Even a tradesman is thought a poor- 
spirited fellow among his neighbours, who does not bestir himself to 
get what they call an extraordinary job, or some uncommon advantage. 
This spirit and keenness constitutes the difference between the man of 
enterprise and the man of dull regularity. Those great objects of self- 
interest, of which the loss or acquisition quite changes the rank of the 
person, are the objects of the passion properly called ambition; a 
passion, which when it keeps within the bounds of prudence and 
justice, is always admired in the world, and has even sometimes a 
certain irregular greatness, which dazzles the imagination, when it 
passes the Umits of both these virtues, and is not only unjust but 
extravagant Hence the general admiration for heroes and conqueror^, 
and even for statesmen, whose projects have been very daring and 
extensive though altogether devoid of justice, such as those of the 
Cardinals of Richlieu and of Retz. The objects of avarice and ambi- 
tion differ only in their greatness. A miser is as furious about a half- 
penny, as a man of ambition about the conquest of a kingdom. 

II. Secondly, I say, it will depend partly upon the precision and 
upon the exactness, or the looseness and the inaccuracy of the general 
rules themselves, how far our conduct ought to proceed entirely from 
a regard to them. 

The general rules of almost all the virtues, the general rules which 



detennine what are the offices of prudence, of charity, of generosity, of 
gratitude, of friendship, are in many respects loose and inaccurate, 
admit of many exceptions, and require so n^ny modifications, that it 
is scarce possible to regulate our conduct entirely by a regard to them. 
The common proverbial maxims of prudence, being founded in uni- 
versal experience, are perhaps the best general rules which can be given 
about it To affect, however, a very strict and literal adherence to them 
would evidently be the most absurd and ridiculous pedantry. Of all 
the virtues I have just now mentioned, gratitude is that, perhaps, of 
which the rules are the most precise, and admit of the fewest excep- 
tions. That as soon as we can we should make a return of equal, and 
if possible of superior, value to the services we have received, would 
seem to. be a pretty plain rule, and one which admitted of scarce any 
exceptions. Upon the most superficial examination, however, this rule 
will appear to be in the highest degree loose and inaccurate, and to 
admit of ten thousand exceptions. If your benefactor attended you in 
your sickness, ought you to attend him in his? or can you fulfil the 
obligation of gratitude, by making a return of a different kind ? If you 
ought to attend him, how long ought you to attend him ? TJie same 
time which he attended you, or longer, and how much longer ? If your 
friend lent you money in your distress, ought you to lend him money 
in his ? How much ought you to lend him ? When ought you to lend 
him ? Now, or to-morrow, or next month ? And for how long a time? 
It is evident, that no general rule can be laid down, by which a precise 
answer can, in all cases, be given to any of these questions. The 
differ^ce between his character and yours, between his circumstances 
and yours, may be such, that you may be perfectly grateful, and justly 
refuse to lend him a half-penny : and, on the contrary, you may be wil- 
ling to lend, or even to give him ten times the simi which he lent you, 
and yet justly be accused of the blackest ingratitude, and of not having 
fulfilled the hundredth part of the obligation you lie under. As the 
duties of gratitude, however, are perhaps the most sacred of all those 
which the beneficent virtues prescribe to us, so the general rules which 
determine them are, as I said before, the most accurate. Those which 
ascertain the actions required by friendship, humanity, hospitality, gene- 
rosity, are still more vague and indeterminate. 

There is, however, one virtue of which the general rules determine 
with the greatest exactness every external action which it requires. 
This virtue is justice. The rules of justice are accurate in the highest 
degree, and admit of no exceptions or modifications, but such as may 
be ascertained as accurately as the rules themselves, and which gene- 
rally, indeed, flow from the very same principles with them. If I owe 
a man ten pounds, justice requires that I should precisely pay him ten 
pounds, either at the time agreed upon, or when he demands it What 
I ought to perform, how much I ought to perform, when and where I 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. 155 

ought to perform it, the whole nature and circumstances of the action 
prescribed, are all of them precisely fixed and determined. Though it 
may be awkward and pedantic, therefore, to affect too strict an adher- 
ence to the common rules of prudence or generosity, there is no 
pedantry in sticking fast by the rules of justice. On the contrary, the 
most sacred regard is due to them ; and the actions which this virtue 
requires are never so properly performed, as when the chief motive for 
performing them is a reverential and religious regard to those general 
rules which require them. In the practice of the other virtues, our 
conduct should rather be directed by a certmn idea of propriety, by a 
certain taste for a particular tenor of conduct, than by any regard to a 
precise maxim pr rule ; and we should consider the end and foundation 
of the rule, more than the rule itself. But it is otherwise with regard 
to justice : the man who in that refines the least, and adheres with the 
most obstinate steadfastness to the general rules themselves, is the most 
commendable, and the most to be depended upon. Though the end of 
the rules of justice be, to hinder us from hurting our neighbour, it may 
frequently be a crime to violate them, though we could pretend with 
some pretext of reason, that this particular violation could do no hurt 
A man often becomes a villain the moment he begins, even in his own 
heart, to chicane in this manner. The moment he thinks of departing 
from the most staunch and positive adherence to what those inviolable 
precepts prescribe to him, he is no longer to be trusted, and no man 
can say what degree of guilt he may not arrive at The thief imagines ^ 
he does no evil, when he steals from the rich, what he supposes they 
may easily want, and what possibly they may never even know has 
been stolen from them. The adulterer imagines he does no evil, when 
he corrupts the wife of his friend, provided he covers his intrigue from 
the suspicion of the husband, and does not disturb the peace of the 
family. When once we begin to give way to such refinements, there is 
no enormity so gross of which we may not be capable. 

The rules of justice may be compared to the rules of grammar ; the 
rules of the other virtues, to the rules which critics lay down for the 
attainment of what is sublime and elegant in composition. The one, 
are precise, accurate, and indispensable. The other, are loose, vague, 
and indeterminate, and present us rather with a general idea of the 
perfection we ought to aim at, than afford us any certain and infallible 
directions for acquiring it A man may learn to write grammatically 
by rule, with the most absolute infallibility ; and so, perhaps, he may 
be taught to act justly. But there are no rules whose observance will 
infallibly lead us to the attainment of elegance or sublimity in writing ; 
though there are some which may help us, in some measure, to correct, 
and ascertain the vague ideas which we might otherwise have enter- 
tained of those perfections. And there are no rules by the knowledge 
of wluch we can infallibly be taught to act upon all occasions with pru- 

n • 


dence, with just magnanimity, or proper beneficence : though there are 
some which may enable us to correct and ascertain, in several respects, 
the imperfect ideas which we might otherwise have entertained of 
those virtues — the rules of justice. 

It may sometimes happen, that with the most serious and earnest 
desire of acting so as to deserve approbation, we may mistake the pro- 
per rules of conduct, and thus be misled by that very principle which 
ought to direct us. It is in vain to expect, that in this case mankind 
should entirely approve of our behaviour. They cannot enter into that 
absurd idea of duty which influenced us, nor go along with any of the 
actions which follow from it. There is still, however, something re- 
spectable in the character and behaviour of one who is thus betrayed 
into vice, by a wrong sense of duty, or by what is called an erroneous 
conscience. How fatally soever he may be misled by it, he is still, with 
the generous and humane, more the object of commiseration than of 
hatred or resentment. They lament the weakness of human nature, 
which exposes us to such unhappy delusions, even while we are most 
sincerely labouring after perfection, and endeavouring to act according 
to the best principle which can possibly direct us. False notions of 
religion are almost the only causes which can occasion any very gross 
perversion of our natural sentiments in this way ; and that principle 
which gives the greatest authority to the rules of duty, is alone capable 
of distorting our ideas of them in any considerable degree. In aU other 
cases, conmion sense is sufficient to direct us, if not to the most exqui- 
site propriety of conduct, yet to something which is not very far from it ; 
and provided we are in earnest desirous to do well, our behaviour will 
always, upon the whole, be praiseworthy. That to obey the will of the 
Deity, is the first rule of duty, all men are agreed. But concerning the 
particular commandments which .that will may impose upon us, they 
differ widely from one another. In this, therefore, the greatest mutual 
forbearance and toleration is due ; and though the defence of society 
requires that crimes should be punished, from whatever motives they 
proceed, yet a good man will always punish them with reluctance, when 
they evidently proceed from false notions . of religious duty. He will 
never feel against those who commit them that indignation which he 
feels against other criminals, but will rather regret, and sometimes even 
admire their unfortunate firmness and magnanimity, at the very time 
that he punishes their crime. In the tragedy of Mahomet, one of the 
finest of Mr. Voltaire's, it is well represented, what ought to be our 
sentiments for crimes which proceed from such motives. In that 
tragedy, two young people of different sexes, of the most innocent and 
virtuous dispositions, and without any other weakness except what 
endears them the more to us, a mutual fondness for one another, are 
instigated by the strongest motives of a false religion, to commit a 
horrid murder, that shocks all the principles of human nature. A 


venerable old man, who had expressed the most tender affection for 
them both, for whom, notwithstanding he was the avowed enemy of 
their religion, they had both conceived the highest reverence and esteem, 
and who was in reality their father, though they did not l^ow him to 
be such, is pointed out to them as a sacrifice which God had expressly 
required at their hands, and they are commanded to kill him. While 
about executing this crime, they are tortured with all the agonies which 
can arise from the struggle between the idea of the indispensable- 
ness of religious duty on the one side, and compassion, gratitude, 
reverence for the age, and love for the humanity and virtue of the per- * 
son whom they are going to destroy, on the other. The representation 
of this exhibits one of the most interesting, and perhaps the most in- 
structive spectacle that was ever introduced upon any theatre. The 
sense of duty, however, at last prevails over all the amiable weaknesses 
of human nature. They execute the crime imposed upon them ; but 
immediately discover their error, and the fraud which had deceived 
them, and are distracted with horror, remorse, and resentment Such 
as are our sentiments for the unhappy Seid and Palmira, such ought 
we to feel for every person who is in this manner misled by religion, 
when we are sure that it is really religion which misleads him, and not 
the pretence of it, which is made too often a cover to some of the worst 
of human passions. 

As a person may act wrong by following a wrong sense of duty, so 
nature may sometimes prevail, and lead him to act right in opposition 
to it We cannot in this case be displeased to see that motive prevail, 
which we think ought to prevail though the person himself is so weak as 
to think otherwise. As his conduct, however, is the effect of weakness, not 
principle, we are far from bestowing upon it any thing that approaches to 
complete approbation. A bigoted Roman Catholic, who, during the 
massacre of St Bartholomew, had been so overcome by compassion, as 
to save some unhappy Protestants, whom he thought it his duty to de- 
stroy, would not seem to be entitled to that high applause which we should 
have bestowed upon him, had he exerted the same generosity with com- 
plete self-approbation. We might be pleased with the humanity of his 
temper, but we should still regard him with a sort of pity which is 
altogether inconsistent with the admiration that is due to perfect virtue. 
It is the same case with all the other passions. We do not dishke to 
see them exert themselves properly, even when a false notion of duty 
would direct the person to restrain them. A. very devout Quaker, who 
upon being struck upon one cheek, instead of turning up the other, 
should so far forget his literal interpretation of our Saviour's precept, as 
to bestow some good discipline upon the brute that insulted him, would 
not be disagreeable to us. We should laugh and be diverted with his 
spirit, and rather like him the better for it But we should by no means 
regard hiii with that respect and esteem which would seem due to one 


who, Upon a like occasion, had acted properly from a just sense of what 
was proper to be done. No action can properiy be called virtuous, 
which is not accompanied with the sentiment of sdf-approbation. 

Part IVr^Ofthe Effect of Utility upon the Sentiment of 

•.* Chap. I. — Of the Beauty which the Appearance of Utility bestows upon 
all the Productions of Art ^ and of the extensive Influence of this 
Species of Beauty, 

That utility is one of the principal Sources of beauty has been observed 
by every body, who has considered with any attention what constitutes 
the nature of beauty. The conveniency of a house gives pleasure to 
the spectator as well as its regularity, and he is as much hurt when he 
observes the contrary defect, as when he sees the correspondent win- 
dows of different forms, or the door not placed exactly in the middle of 
the building. That the fitness of any system or machine to produce 
the end for which it was intended, bestows a certain propriety and 
J beauty upon the whole, and renders the very thought and contemplation 
of it agreeable, is so obvious that nobody has over-looked it 
The cause too, why utility pleases, has of late been assigned by an 
yj ingenious and agreeable philosopher, who joins the greatest depth of 

*^>\ -fj thought to the greatest elegance of expression, and possesses the sin- 
**':> ,^lar and happy talent of treating the abstrusest subjects not only with 
. the most perfect perspicuity, but with the most lively eloquence. The 
utiUty of any object, according to him, pleases the master by perpetu- 
^ x^ ally suggesting to him the pleasure or conveniency which it is fitted to 

> , ^* ^ promote. Every time he looks at it, he is put in mind of this pleasure ; 
''■^ - ^ ^and the object in this manner becomes a source of perpetual satisfaction 
"^^ ■ -^knd enjoyment. The spectator enters by sympathy into the sentiments 
^ j;'*^ .-of the master, and necessarily views the object under the same agree- 
K '-v^ , ' able aspect When we visit the palaces of the great, we cannot help 
' conceiving the satisfaction we should enjoy if we ourselves were the 
masters, and were possessed of so much artful and ingeniously con- 
^ : trived accommodation. A similar account is given why the appearance 
of inconveniency should render any object disagreeable both to the 
owner and to the spectator. 

But that this fitness, this happy contrivance of any production of art, 
should often be more valued, than the very end for which it was in- 
tended ; and that the exact adjustment of the means for attaining any 
conveniency or pleasure, should frequently be more regarded, than that 
very conveniency or pleasure, in the attainment of which their whole 
merit would seem to consist, has not, so far as I know, been yet taken 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 159 

notice of by any body. That this, however, is very frequently the case, 
may be observed in a thousand instances, both in the most frivolous 
and in the most important concerns of human life. 

When a person comes into his ch^unber, and finds the chairs all 
standing in the middle of the room, he is angry with his servant, and 
rather than see them continue in that disorder, perhaps takes the trouble 
himself to set them all in their places with their backs to the wall 
The whole propriety of this new situation arises from its superior con- 
veniency in leaving the floor free and disengaged. To attain this con- 
veniency he voluntarily puts himself to more trouble than all he could 
have suffered from the want of it ; since nothing was more easy, than 
to have set himself down upon one of them, which is probably what he 
does when his labour is over. What he wanted, therefore, it seems, 
was not so much this conveniency, as that arrangement of things which 
promotes it. Yet it is this conveniency alone which may ultimately 
recommend that arrangement, and bestows upon it the whole of its 
propriety and beauty. 

A watch, in the same manner, that falls behind above two minutes 
in a day, is despised by one curious in watches. He sells it perhaps 
for a couple of guineas, and purchases another at fifty^ which will not 
lose above a minute in a fortnight The sole use of watches, however, is 
to tell us what o^clock it is, and to hinder us from breaking any engage- 
ment, or suffering any other inconveniency by our ignorance in that par- 
ticular point. But the person so nice with regard to this machine, will not 
always be found either more scrupulously punctual than other men, or 
more anxiously concerned upon any other account, to know precisely 
what time of day it is. What interests him is not so much the attain- 
ment of this piece of knowledge, as the perfection of the machine which 
enables him to attain it 

How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets 
of frivolous utility ? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much 
the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote 
it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences. They con- 
trive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to 
carry a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of 
baubles, in weight and sometimes in value not inferior to an ordinary 
Jew's-box, some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all 
of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole 
utility is not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden. 

Nor is it only with regard to such frivolous objects that our conduct 
is influenced by this principle ; it is often the secret motive of the most 
serious and important pursuits of both private and public life. 

The poor man's son, whom Heaven in its anger has visited with 
ambition, when he begins to look around him, admires the condition of 
the rich. He finds the cottage of his father too small for his accom- 


modation, and fancies he should be lodged more at his ease in a palace. 
He is displeased with being obliged to walk a-foot, or to endure the 
fatigue of riding on horseback. He sees his superiors carried about in 
machines, and imagines that in ,one of these he could travel with less 
inconveniency. He feels himself naturally indolent, and willing to 
serve himself with his own hands as little as possible; and judges, 
that a numerous retinue of servants would save him from a great deal 
of trouble. He thinks if he had attained all these, he would sit still 
contentedly, and be quiet, enjoying himself in the thought of the happi- 
ness and tranquillity of his situation. He is enchanted with the distant 
idea of this felicity. It appears in his fancy like the life of some supe- 
rior rank of beings, and, in order to arrive at it, he devotes himself for 
ever to the pursuit of wealth and greatness. To obtain the conve- 
niences which these afford, he submits in the first year, nay, in the 
first month of his application, to more fatigue of body and more 
uneasiness of mind than he could have suffered through the whole of 
his life from the want of them. He studies to distinguish himself in 
some laborious profession. With the most unrelenting industry he 
labours night and day to acquire talents superior to all his competitors. 
He endeavours next to bring those talents into public view, and with 
equal assiduity solicits every opportunity of employment For this 
purpose he makes his court to aU mankind ; he serves those whom he 
hates, and is obsequious to those whom he despises. Through the 
whole of his life he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant 
repose which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real 
tranquillity that is at all times in his power, and which, if in the ex- 
tremity of old age he should at last attain to it, he will find to be in no 
respect preferable to that humble security and contentment which he 
had abandoned for it. It is then, in the last dregs of life, his body 
wasted with toil and diseases, his mind galled and ruffied by the 
memory of a thousand injuries and disappointments which he imagines 
he has met with from the injustice of his enemies, or from the perfidy 
and ingratitude of his friends, that he begins at last to find that wealth 
and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility, no more adapted 
for procuring ease of body or tranquillity of mind than the tweezer- 
cases of the lover of toys ; and, like them too, more troublesome to the 
person who carries them about with him than aU the advantages they 
can afford him are commodious. There is no other real difference 
between them, except that the conveniences of the one are somewhat 
more observable than those of the other. The palaces, the gardens, 
the equipage, the retinue of the great, are objects of which the obvious 
conveniency strikes every body. They do not require that their mas- 
ters should point out to us, wherein consists their utility. Of our own 
accord we readily enter into it, and by sympathy enjoy and thereby 
applaud the satisfaction which they are fitted to afford him. But the 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. i6i 

curiosity of a tooth-pick, of an ear-picker, of a machine for cutting the 
nails, or of any other trinket of the same kind, is not so obvious. 
Their conveniency may perhaps be equally great, but it is not so 
striking, and we do not so readily enter into the satisfaction of the 
man who possesses them. They are therefore less reasonable subjects 
of vanity than the magnificence of wealth and greatness ; and in this 
consists the sole advantage of these last They more effectually gratify 
that love of distinction so natural to man. To one who was to live 
alone in a desolate island it might be a matter of doubt, perhaps, 
whether a palace, or a collection of such small conveniencies as are 
commonly contained in a tweezer-case, would contribute most to his 
happiness and enjoyment. If he is to live in society, indeed, there can 
be no comparison, because in this, as in all other cases, we constantly 
pay more regard to the sentiments of the spectator, than to those of 
the person principally concerned, and consider rather how his situation 
will appear to other people, than how it will appear to himself. If we 
examine, however, why the spectator distinguishes with such admira- 
tion the condition of the rich and the great, we shall find that is is not 
so much upon account of the superior ease or pleasure which they are 
supposed to enjoy, as of the numberless artificial and elegant con- 
trivances for promoting this ease or pleasure. He does not even ima- 
gine that they are really happier than other people : but he imagines 
that they possess more means of happiness. And it is the ingenious 
and artful adjustment of those means to the end for which they were 
intended, that is the principal source of his admiration. But in the 
languor of disease and the weariness of old age, the pleasures of the 
vain and empty distinctions of greatness disappear. To one, in this 
situation, they are no longer capable of recommending those toilsome 
pursuits in which they had formerly engaged him. In his heart he 
curses ambition, and vainly regrets the ease and the indolence of youth, 
pleasures which are fled for ever, and which he has foolishly sacrificed 
for what, when he has got it, can afford him no real satisfaction. In 
this miserable aspect does greatness appear to every man when re- 
duced either by spleen or disease to observe with attention his own 
situation, and to consider what it is that is really wanting to his happi- 
ness. Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous 
and operose machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniencies 
to the body, consisting of springs the most nice and delicate, which 
must be kept in order with the most anxious attention, and which in 
spite of all our care are ready every moment to burst into pieces, and 
to crush in their ruins their unfortunate possessor. They are immense 
fabrics, which it requires the labour of a life to raise, which threaten 
every moment to overwhelm the person that dwells in them, and 
which while they stand, though they may save him from some smaller 
inconveniencies, can protect him from none of the severer inclemen- 


cies of the season. They keep off the summer shower, not the winter 
storm, but leave him always as much, and sometimes more, exposed 
than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow ; to diseases, to danger, 
and to death. 

But though this splenetic philosophy, which in time of sickness or 
low spirits is familiar to every man, thus entirely depreciates those 
great objects of human desire, when in better health and in better 
humour, we never fail to regard them under a more agreeable aspect 
Our imagination, which in pain and sorrow seems to be confined 
and cooped up within our own persons, in times of ease and prosperity 
expands itself to every thing around us. We are then charmed with 
the beauty of that accommodation which reigns in the palaces and 
ceconomy of the great ; and admire how every thing is adapted to pro- 
mote their ease, to prevent their wants, to gratify their wishes, and to 
amuse and entertain their most frivolous desires. If we consider the 
real satisfaction which all these things are capable of affording, by 
itself and separated from the beauty of that arrangement which is fitted 
to promote it, it will always appear in the highest degree contemptible 
and trifling. But we rarely view it in this abstract and philosophical 
light. We naturally confound it in our imagination with the order, the 
regular and harmonious movement of the system, the machine or 
ceconomy by means of which it is produced. The pleasures of wealth 
and greatness, when considered in this complex view, strike the imagi- 
nation as something grand and beautiful and noble, of which the 
attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to 
bestow upon it. 

And it is well that nature imposes upon us in this manner. It is 
this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry 
t)f mankind. It is this which first prompted them to cultivate the 
ground, to build houses, to found cities and commonwealths, and to 
invent and improve all the sciences and arts, which ennoble and em- 
bellish human life ; which have entirely changed the whole face of the 
globe, have turned the rude forests of nature into agreeable and fertile 
plains, and made the trackless and barren ocean a new fund of sub- 
sistence, and the great high road of communication to the different 
nations of the earth. The earth by these labours of mankind has been 
obliged to redouble her natural fertility, and to maintain a greater mul- 
titude of inhabitants. It is to no purpose, that the proud and unfeeling 
landlord views his extensive fields, and without a thought for the wants 
of his brethren, in imagination consumes himself the whole harvest 
that grows upon them. The homely and vulgar proverb, that the eye 
is larger than the belly, never was more fully verified than with regard 
to him. The capacity of his stomach bears no proportion to the 
immensity of his desires, and will receive no more than that of the 
meanest peasant. The rest he is obliged to distribute among those, 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 163 

who prepare, in the nicest manner, that little which he himself makes 
use of, among those who fit up the palace in which this Uttle is to be 
consumed, among those who provide and keep in order all the different 
baubles and trinkets which are employed in the ceconomy of great- 
ness ; all of whom thus derive from his lu3cury and caprice, that share 
of the necessaries of life, which they would in vain have expected from 
his humanity or his justice. The produce of the soil maintains at all 
times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of main- 
taining. The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and 
agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of 
their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own 
conveniency, though the sole end which they propose fix)m the labours 
of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their 
own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce 
of an their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make 
nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of hfe, which would 
have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among 
all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, 
advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplica- 
tion of the species. When Providence divided the earth among a few 
lordly masters, it neither forgot nor abandoned those who seemed to 
have been left out in the partition. These last, too, enjoy their share of 
all that it produces. In what constitutes the real happiness of htmian 
life, they are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much 
above them. In ease of the body and peace of the mind, all the 
different ranks of life are nearly upon a' level, and the beggar, who 
suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security 
which kings are fighting for. 

The same principle, the same love of system, the same regard to the / 
beauty of order, of art and contrivance, frequently serves to reconmiend 
those institutions which tend to promote the public welfare. When a 
patriot exerts himself for the improvement of any part of the public 
police, his conduct does not always arise from pure sympathy with the 
happiness of those who are to reap the benefit of it It is not com- 
monly from a fellow-feeling with carriers and waggoners that a public- 
spirited man encourages the mending of high roads. When the legis- 
lature establishes premiums and other encouragements to advance the 
linen or woollen manufactures, its conduct seldom proceeds from pure 
sjrmpathy with the wearer of cheap or fine cloth, and much less from 
that with the manufacturer or merchant. The perfection of police, 
the extension of trade and manufactures, are noble and magnificent 
objects. The contemplation of them pleases us, and we are interested 
in whatever can tend to advance them. They make part of the great 
system of government, and the wheels of the political machine 
seem to move with more harmony and ease by means of them. We 


take pleasure in beholding the perfection of so beautiful and grand a 
system, and we are uneasy till we remove any obstruction that can in 
the least disturb or encumber the regularity of its motions. All consti- 
tutions of government, however, are valued only in proportion as they 
tend to promote the happiness of those who live under them. This is 
their sole use and end. From a certain spirit of system, however, 
from a certain love of art and contrivance, we sometimes seem to value 
the means more than the end, and to be eager to promote the happi- 
ness of our fellow-creatures, rather from a view to perfect and improv^ 
a certain beautiful and orderly system, than from any immediate sense 
or feeling of what they either suffer or enjoy. There have been men 
of the greatest public spirit, who have shown themselves in other 
respects not very sensible to the feelings of humanity. And on the 
contrary, there have been men of the greatest humanity, who seem to 
have been entirely devoid of public spirit Every man may find in the 
circle of his acquaintance instances both of the one kind and the 
other. Who had ever less humanity, or more public spirit, than the 
celebrated legislator of Muscovy ? The social and well-natured James 
the First of Great Britain seems, on the contrary, to have had scarce any 
passion, either for the glory or the interest of his country. Would you 
awaken the industry of the man who seems almost dead to ambition, 
it will often be to no purpose to describe to him the happiness of the 
rich and the great ; to tell him that they are generally sheltered from 
the sun and the rain, that they are seldom hungry, that they are seldom 
cold, and that they are rarely exposed to weariness, or to want of any 
kind. The mdst eloquent exhortation of this kind will have little effect 
upon him. If you would hope to succeed, you must describe to him 
the conveniency and arrangement of the different apartments in their 
palaces ; you must explain to him the propriety of their equipages, and 
point out to him the number, the order, and the different offices of 
all their attendants. If any thing is capable of making impression 
upon him, this will. Yet all these things tend only to keep off the sun 
and the rain, and save them from hunger and cold, from want and 
weariness. In the same manner, if you would implant public virtue in 
the breast of him who seems heedless of the interest of his country, it 
will often be to no purpose to tell him, what superior advantages the 
subjects of a well-govemed state enjoy ; that they are better lodged, 
that they are better clothed, that they are better fed. These considera- 
tions will commonly make no great impression. You will be more 
likely to persuade, if you describe the great system of public police 
which procures these advantages, if you explain the connexions and 
dependencies of its several parts, their mutual subordination to one 
another, and their general subserviency to the happiness of the society ; 
if you show how this system might be introduced into his own country, 
what it is that hinders it from taking place there at present, how those 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 165 

obstructions might be removed, and all the several wheels of the 
machine of government be made to move • with more harmony and 
smoothness, without grating upon one another, or mutually retarding 
one anothei^s motions. It is scarce possible that a man should listen 
to a discourse •of this kind, and not feel himself animated to some 
degree of public spirit He will, at least for a moment, feel some 
desire to remove those obstructions, and to put into motion so beautiful 
and so orderly a machine. Nothing tends so much to promote public 
spirit^as the study of politics, of the several systems of civil govem- 
pient, their advantages and disadvantages, of the constitution of our 
own country, its situation, and interest with regard to foreign nations, 
its commerce, its defence, the disadvantages it labours under, the 
dangers to which it may be exposed, how to remove the one, and how 
to guard against the other. Upon this account political disquisition, if 
just and reasonable and practicable, are of all the works of specula- 
tion the most useful Even the weakest and the worst of them are not 
altogether without their utility. They serve at least to animate the 
public passions of men, and rouse them to seek out the means of pro- 
moting the happiness of the society. 

Chap. II. — Of the Beauty which the Appearance of Utility bestows 
upon the Characters and the Actions of Men; and how far the 
Perception of this Beauty may be regarded as one of the original 
Principles of Approbation, 
The characters of men, as well as the contrivances of art, or the 
institutions of civil government, may be fitted either to promote or to 
disturb the happiness both of the individual and of the society. The 
prudent, the equitable, the active, resolute, and sober character pro- 
mises prosperity and satisfaction, both to the person himself and to 
every one connected with him. The rash, the insolent, the slothful, 
effeminate, and voluptuous, on the contrary, forebodes ruin to the 
individual, and misfortune to all who have any thing to do with him. 
The first turn of mind has at least all the beauty which can belong to 
the most perfect machine that was ever invented for promoting the 
tQost agreeable purpose : and the second, all the deformity of the most 
awkward and clumsy contrivance. What institution of government 
could tend so much to promote the happiness of mankind as the 
general prevalence of wisdom and virtue ? All government is but an 
imperfect remedy for the deficiency of these. Whatever beauty, there- 
fore, can belong to civil government upon account of its utility, must 
in a far superior degree belong to these. On the contrary, what civil 
policy can be so ruinous and destructive as the vices of men ? The 
fatal effects of bad government arise from nothing, but that it does not 


sufficiently guard against the mischiefs which human wickedness so 
often gives occasion ta 

This beauty and defonnity which characters appear to derive from 
their usefuhiess or inconveniency, are apt to strike, in a peculiar 
manner, those who consider, in an abstract and philosophical light, 
the actions and conduct of mankind. When a philosopher goes to 
examine why humanity is approved of, or cruelty condemned, he does 
not always form to himself, in a very clear and distinct manner, the 
conception of any one particular action either of cruelty or of humanity, 
but is commonly contented with the vague and indeterminate idea 
which the general names of those quahties suggest to hinL But it is 
in particular instances only that the propriety or impropriety, the merit 
or demerit of actions is very obvious and discernible. It is only when 
particular examples are given that we perceive distinctly either the 
concord or disagreement between our two affections and those of the 
agent, or feel a social gratitude arise towards him in the one case, or a 
sympathetic resentment in the other. When we consider virtue and 
vice in an abstract and general manner, the qualities by which they 
excite these several sentiments seem in a great measure to disappear, 
and the sentiments themselves become less obvious and discernible. 
On the contrary, the happy effects of the one and the fatal consequences 
of the other seem then to rise up to the view, and as it were to stand 
out and distinguish themselves from all the other qualities of either. 

The same ingenious and agreeable author who first explained why 
utility pleases, has been so struck with this view of things, as to resolve 
our whole approbation of virtue into a perception of this species of 
beauty which results from the appearance of utility. No qualities of 
the mind, he observes, are approved of as virtuous, but such as are 
useful or agreeable either to the person himself or to others ; and no 
qualities are disapproved of as vicious but such as have a contrary 
tendency. And Nature, indeed, seems to have so happily adjusted our 
sentiments of approbation and disapprobation, to the conveniency 
both of the individual and of the society, that after the strictest exami- 
nation it will be found, I believe, that this is universally the case. But 
still I affirm, that it is not the view of this utility or hurtfulness which 
is either the first or principal source of our approbation and disapproba- 
tion. These sentiments are no doubt enhanced and enlivened by the 
perception of the beauty or deformity which results from this utility or 
hurtfulness. But still, I say, that they were originally and essentially 
different from this perception. 

For first of all, it seems impossible that the approbation of virtue 
should be a sentiment of the same kind with that by which we approve 
of a convenient and well-contrived building ; or that we should have 
no other reason for praising a man than that for which we commend a 
chest of drawers. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 167 

And secondly, it will be found, upon examination, that the usefulness 
of any disposition of mind is seldom the first groimd of our approba- 
tion ; and that the sentiment of approbation always involves in it a 
sense of propriety quite distinct from the perception of utility. We 
may observe this with regard to all the qualities which are approved of 
as virtuous, both those which, according to this system, are ori^naUy 
valued as useful to ourselves, as well as those which are esteemed on 
account of their usefulness to others. 

The qualities most useful to ourselves are, first of all, superior reason 
and understanding, by which we are capable of discerning the remote 
consequences of all our actions, and of fore-seeing the advantage or 
detriment which is likely to result from them: and secondly, self- 
command, by which we are enabled to abstain from present pleasure or 
to endure present pain, in order to obtain a greater pleasure, or to avoid 
a greater pain in some future time. In the union of those two qualities 
consists the virtue of prudence, of all the virtues that which is the 
most useful to the individual 

With regard to the first of those qualities, it has been observed on a 
former occasion, that superior reason and understanding are originally 
approved of as just and right and accurate, and not merely as useful or 
advantageous. It is in the abstruser sciences, particularly in the 
higher parts of mathematics, that the greatest and most admired 
exertions of human reason have been displayed. But the utility of 
those sciences, either to the individual or to the public, is not very 
obvious, and to prove it, requires a discussion which is not always very 
easily comprehended. It was not, therefore, their utility which first 
recommended them to the public admiration. This quality was but 
little insisted upon, till it became necessary to make some reply to the 
reproaches of those, who, having themselves no taste for such sublime 
discoveries, endeavoured to depreciate them as useless. 

That self-command, in the same manner, by which we restncin our 
present appetites, in order to gratify them more fiilly upon another 
occasion, is approved of, as much under the aspect of propriety, as 
under that of utility. When we act in this manner, the sentiments 
which influence our conduct seem exactly to coincide with those of the 
spectator. The spectator, however, does not feel the solicitations of 
our present appetites. 

To him the pleasure which we are to enjoy a week hence, or a year 
hence, is just as interesting as that which we are to enjoy this moment. 
When for the sake of the present, therefore, we sacrifice the future, our 
conduct appears to him absurd and extravagant in the highest degree, 
and he cannot enter into the principles which influence it On the 
contrary, when we abstain from present pleasure, in order to secure 
greater pleasure to come, when we act as if the remote object interested 
us as much as that which immediately presses upon the senses, as our 


affections exactly correspond with his own, he cannot fail to approve of 
our behaviour : and as he knows from experience, how few are capable 
of this self-command, he looks upon our conduct with a considerable 
degree of wonder and admiration. Hence arises that eminent esteem 
with which all men naturally regard a steady perseverance in the prac- 
tice of frugality, industry, and application, tiiough directed to no other 
purpose than the acquisition of fortune. The resolute finnness of the 
person who acts in this manner, and in order to obtain a great though 
remote advantage, not only gives up all present pleasures, but endures 
the greatest labour both of mind and body, necessarily commands our 
approbation. That view of his interest and happiness which appears 
to regulate his conduct, exactly tallies with the idea which we naturally 
form of it There is the most perfect correspondence between his senti- 
ments and our own, and at the same time, from our experience of the com- 
mon weakness of human nature, it is a correspondence which we could 
not reasonably have expected. We not only approve, therefore, but in 
some measure admire his conduct, and think it worthy of a considerable 
degree of applause. It is the consciousness of this merited approbation 
and esteem which is alone capable of supporting the agent in this te- 
nor of conduct The pleasure which we are to enjoy ten years hence 
interests us so little in comparison with that which we may enj6y to- 
day, the passion which the first excites, is naturally so weak in com- 
parison with that violent emotion which the second is apt to give occa- 
sion to, that the one could never be any balance to the other, unless it 
was supported by the sense of propriety, by the consciousness that we 
merited the esteem and approbation of every body, by acting in the 
one way, and that we became the proper objects of their contempt and 
derision by behaving in the other. 

Humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit, are the qualities most 
useful to others. Wherein consists the propriety of humanity and jus- 
tice has been explained upon a former occasion, where it was shown 
how much our esteem and approbation of those qualities depended 
upon the concord between the affections of the agent and those of the 

The propriety of generosity and public spirit is founded upon the 
same principle with that of justice. Generosity is different from human- 
ity. Those two qualities, which at first sight seem so nearly allied, do 
not always belong to the same person, Hiunanity is the virtue of a 
woman, generosity of a man. The fair sex, who have commonly much 
more tenderness than ours, have seldom so much generosity. That 
women rarely make considerable donations, is an observation of the 
civil law. — (Raro mulieres donare solent) Humanity consists merely 
in the exquisite fellow-feeling which the spectator entertains with the 
sentiments of the persons principally concerned, so as to grieve for 
their sufferings, to resent their injuries, and to rejoice at their good for- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 169 

tune. The most humane actions require no self-denial, no' self-com- 
mand, no great exertion of the sense of propriety. They consist only 
in doing what this exquisite sympathy would of its own accord prompt 
us to do. But it is otherwise witJi generosity. We never are generous 
except when in some respect we prefer some other person to ourselves, 
and sacrifice some great and important interest of our own to an equal 
interest of a friend or of a superior. The man who gives up his pre- 
tensions to an office that was the great object of his ambition, because 
he imagines that the services of another are better entitled to it ; the 
man who exposes his life to defend that of his friend, which he judges 
to be of more importance, neither of them act from humanity, or be- 
cause they feel more exquisitely what concerns that other person that 
what concerns themselves. They both consider those opposite inte- 
rests, not in the light in which they naturally appear to themselves, but 
in that in which they appear to others. To every bystander, the suc- 
cess or preservation of this other person may justly be more interesting 
than their own ; but it cannot be so to themselves. When to the 
interest of this other person, therefore, they sacrifice their own, they 
accommodate themselves to the sentiments of the spectator, and by an 
effort of magnanimity act according to those views of things which 
they feel must naturally occur to any third person* The soldier who 
throws away his life in order to defend that of his officer, would perhaps 
be but little affected by the death of that officer, if it should happen 
without any fault of his own ; and a very small disaster which had be- 
fallen himself might excite a much more lively sorrow. But when he 
endeavours to act so as to deserve applause, and to make the impartial 
spectator enter into the principles of his conduct, he feels, that to every 
body but himself, his own hfe is a trifle compared with that of his 
officer, and that when he sacrifices tjie one to the other, he acts quite 
properly and agreeably to what would be the natural apprehensions ot 
every impartial bystander. 

It is the same case with the greater exertions of public spirit. When 
a young officer exposes his life to acquire some inconsiderable addition 
to the dominions of his sovereign, it is not because the acquisition of 
the new territory is, to himself, an object more desirable than the pre- 
servation of his own life. To him his own hfe is of infinitely more 
value than the conquest of a whole kingdom for the state which he 
serves. But when he conipares those two objects with one another, he 
does not view them in the hght in which they naturally appear to him- 
self, but in that in which they appear to the nation he fights for. To 
them the success of the war is of the highest importance ; the life of 
a private person of scarce any consequence. When he puts himself in 
their situation, he immediately feels that he cannot be too prodigal of 
his blood, if, by shedding it, he can promote so valuable a purpose. 
In thus thwarting, from a sense of duty and propriety, the strongest of 



all natural propensities, consists the heroism of his conduct There is 
many an honest Englishman, who, in his private station, would be more 
seriously disturbed by the loss of a guinea, than by the national loss of 
Minorca, who yet, had it been in his power to defend that fortress, 
would have sacrificed his life a thousand times rather than, through his 
fault, have let it fall into the hands of the enemy. When the first Bni- 
tus led forth his own sons to a capital punishment, because they had 
conspired against the rising liberty of Rome, he sacrificed what, if he 
had consulted his own breast only, would appear to be the stronger to 
the weaker affection. Brutus ought naturally to have felt much more 
for the death of his own sons, than for all that probably Rome could 
have suffered from the want of so great an example. But he viewed 
them, not with the eyes of a father, but with those of a Roman citizen. 
He entered so thoroughly into the sentiments of this last character, 
that he paid no regard to that tie, by which he himself was connected 
with them ; and to a Roman citizen, the sons even of Brutus seemed 
contemptible, when put into the bal&nce with the smallest interest of 
Rome. In these and in all other cases of this kind, our admiration is 
not so much founded upon the utility, as upon the unexpected, and on 
that account the great, the noble, and exalted propriety of such actions. 
This utility, when we come to view it, bestows upon them, undoubtedly 
a new beauty, and upon that account still further recommends them to 
our approbation. This new beauty, however, is chiefly perceived by 
men of reflection and speculation, and it is by no means the quality 
which first recommends such actions to the natural sentiments of 
the bulk of mankind. 

It is to be observed, that so far as the sentiment of approbation 
arises from the perception of this beauty of utility, it has no reference 
of any kind to the sentiments of others. If it was possible, therefore, 
that a person should grow up to manhood without any communication 
with society, his own actions might, notwithstanding, be agreeable or 
disagreeable to him on account of their tendency to his happiness or 
disadvantage. He might perceive a beauty of this kind in prudence, 
temperance, and good conduct, and a deformity in the opposite beha- 
viour : he might view his own temper and character with that sort of 
satisfaction with which we consider a well-contrived machine, in the 
one case : or with that sort of distaste and dissatisfaction with which 
we regard a very awkward and clumsy contrivance, in the other. As 
these perceptions, however, are merely a matter of taste, and have all 
the feebleness and delicacy of that species of perceptions, upon the 
justness of which what is properly called taste is founded, they proba- 
bly would not be much attended to by one in his solitary and miserable 
condition. Even though they should occur to him, they would by no 
means have the same effect upon him, antecedent to his connexion with 
society, which they would have in consequence of that connexion. He 

smith's theory of moral sentiments;. 171 

would not be cast down with inward shame at the thought of this de- 
formity ; nor would he be elevated with secret triumph of mind from 
the consciousness of the contrary beauty. He would not exult from 
the notion of deserving reward in the one case^ nor tremble from the 
suspicion of meriting punishment in the other. All such, sentiments 
suppose the idea of some other being, wha is the natural judge of the 
person that feels them ; and it is only by sympathy with the decisions 
of this arbiter of his conduct, that he can conceive, either the triumph 
of self-applause, or the shame of self-condemnation* 

Part V. — Of the Influence of Custom and Fashion upon the 
Sentiments of Moral Approbation and Disapprobation, 

Chap. Y,— Of the Influence of Custom and Fashion upon our notions 
of Beauty and Deformity. 

There are other principles besides those already enumerated, which 
have a considerable influence upon the moral sentiments of mankind, 
and are the chief causes of the many irregular and discordant opin- 
ions which prevail in different ages and nations concerning what is 
blamable or praise-worthy* These principles are custom and fashion, 
principles which extend their dominion over our judgments concerning 
beauty of every kind. 

When two objects have frequently been seen together, the imagina- 
tion acquires a habit of passing easily from the one to the other. If 
the first appear, we lay our account that the second is to follow. Of 
their own accord they put us in mind of one another, and the attention 
glides easily along them. Thougji, independent of custom, there should 
iDe no real beauty in their union, yet when custom has thus connected 
them together, we feel an impropriety in their separation. The one we 
think is awkward when it appears without its usual companion. We 
miss something which we expected to find, and the habitual arrange- 
ment of our ideas is disturbed by the disappointment A suit of clothes, 
for example, seems to want something if they are without the most in- 
significant ornament which usually accompanies them, and we find a 
meanness or awkwardness in the absence even of a haunch button. 
When there is any natural propriety in the union, custom increases our 
sense of it, and makes a different arrangement appear still more dis- 
agreeable than it would otherwise seem to be- Those who have been 
accustomed to see things in a good taste, are more disgusted by what- 
ever is clumsy or awkward. Where the conjunction is improper, cus- 
tom either diminishes, or takes away altogether, our sense of the impro- 
priety. Those who have been accustomed to slovenly disorder lose all 
sense of neatness or elegance. The modes of furniture or dress which 

11 * 


seem ridiculous to strangers, give no offence to the people who have 
been used to them. 

Fashion is different from custom, or mther is a particular species of 
it. That is not the fashion which every body wears, but which those 
wear who are of a high rank, or character. The graceful, the easy, and 
commanding manners of the great, joined to the usual richness and 
magnificence of their dress, give a grace to the very form which they 
happen to bestow upon it. As long as they continue to use this form, 
it is connected in our imaginations with the idea of something that is 
genteel and magnificent, and though in itself it should be indifferent, 
it seerns, on account of this relation, to have something about it that is 
jenteel and magnificent too. As soon as they drop it, it loses all the 
grace, which it had appeared to possess before, and being now used 
only by the inferior ranks of people, seems to have something of their 
meanness and their awkwardness. 

Dress and furniture are allowed by all the world to be entirely under 
the dominion of custom and fashion. The influence of those principles, 
however, is by no means confined to so narrow a sphere, but extends 
itself to whatever is in any respect the object of taste, to music, to poetry, 
to architecture. The modes of dress and furniture are continually 
changing, and that fashion appearing ridiculous to-day which was 
admired five years ago, we are experimentally convinced that it owed 
its vogue chiefly or entirely to custom and fashion. Clothes and furni- 
ture are not made of very durable materials. A well-fancied coat is 
done in a twelve-month, and cannot continue longer to propagate, as 
the fashion, that form according to which it was made. The modes of 
furniture change less rapidly than those of dress ; because furniture is 
commonly more durable. In five or six years, however, it generally 
undergoes an entire revolution, and every man in his own time sees the 
fashion in this respect change many different ways. The productions 
of the other arts are much more lasting, and, when happily imagined, 
may continue to propagate the fashion of their make for a much longer 
time. A well-contrived building may ©ndure many centuries : a beauti- 
ful air may be delivered down by a sort of tradition, through many 
successive generations : a well- written poem may last as long as the 
world ; and all of them continue for ages together, to give the vogue to 
that particular style, to that particular taste or manner, according to 
which each of them was composed. Few men have an opportunity of 
seeing in their own times the fashion in any of these arts change very 
considerably. Few men have so much experience and acquaintance 
with the different modes which have obtained in remote ages and 
nations, as to be thoroughly reconciled to them, or to judge with 
impartiality between them and what takes place in their own age and 
country. Few men therefore are willing to allow, that custom or fashion 
have much influence upon their judgments concerning what is beautiful 


or Otherwise, in the productions of any of those arts ; but imagine that 
all the rules, which they think ought to be observed in each of them, 
are founded upon reason and nature, not upon habit or prejudice. A 
very little attention may convince them of the contrary, and satisfy 
them, that the influence of custom and fashion over dress and furni- 
ture, is not more absolute than over architecture, poetry, and music 

Can any reason, for example, be assigned why the Doric capital 
should be appropriated to a pillar, whose height is equal to eight 
diameters ; the Ionic volute to one of nine ; and the Corinthian fohage 
to one of ten? The propriety of each of those appropriations can be 
founded upon nothing but habit and custom. The eye having been 
used to see a particular proportion connected with a particular orna- 
ment, would be offended if they were not joined together. Each of the 
five orders has its peculiar ornaments, which cannot be changed for 
any other, without giving offence to all those who know any thing of 
the rules of architecture. According to some architects, indeed, such 
is the exquisite judgment with which the ancients have assigned to 
each order its proper ornaments, that no others can be found which are ' 
equally suitable. It seems, however, a httle difficult to be conceived 
that these forms, though, no doubt, extremely agreeable, should be the 
only forms which can suit those proportions, or that there should not 
be five hundred others which, antecedent to established custom, would 
have fitted them equally well. When custom, however, has established 
particular rules of building, provided they are not absolutely unreason- 
able, it is absurd to think of altering them for others which are only 
equally good, or even for others which, in point of elegance and beauty, 
have naturally some little advantage over them. A man would be 
ridiculous who should appear in public with a suit of clothes quite 
different from those which are commonly worn, though the new dress 
should in itself be ever so graceful or convenient And there seems to 
be an absurdity of the same kind in ornamenting a house after a quite 
different manner from that which custom and fashion have prescribed ; 
though the new ornaments should in themselves be somewhat superior 
to the common ones in use. 

According to the ancient rhetoricians, a certain measure or verse was 
by nature appropriated to each particular species of writing, as being 
naturally expressive of that character, sentiment, or passion, which 
ought to predominate in it One verse, they said, was fit for grave and 
another for gay works, which could not, they thought, be interchanged 
without the greatest impropriety. The experience of modem times, 
however, seems to contradict this principle, though in itself it would 
appear to be extremely probable. What is the burlesque verse in 
English, is the heroic verse in French. The tragedies of Racine and 
the Henriad of Voltaire, are nearly in the same verse with, 

Let me have your advice in a weighty affair. 


The burlesque verse in French, on the contrary, is pretty much the 
same with the heroic verse of ten syllables in English. Custom has 
made the one nation associate the ideas of gravity, sublimity, and 
seriousness, to that measure which the other has connected with what- 
ever is gay, flippant, and ludicrous. Nothing would appear more 
absurd in English, than a tragedy written in the Alexandrine verses of 
the French ; or in French, than a work of the same kind in, hexame- 
tery, or verses of ten syllables. 

An eminent artist will bring about a considerable change in the 
established modes of each of those arts, and introduce a new fashion 
of writing, music, or architecture. As the dress of an agreeable man 
of high rank recommends itself, and how peculiar and fantastical 
soever, comes soon to be admired and imitated ; so the excellencies 
of an eminent master reconnnend his peculiarities, and his manner 
becomes the fashionable style in the art which he practises. The taste 
of the Italians in music and architecture has, within these fifty years, 
undergone a considerable change, from imitating the peculiarities of 
some eminent masters in each of those arts. Seneca is accused by 
Quintilian of having corrupted the taste of the Romans, and of having 
introduced a frivolous prettiness in the room of majestic reason and 
masculine eloquence. Sallust and Tacitus have by others been charged 
with the same accusation, though in a different manner. They gave 
reputation, it is pretended, to a style, which though in the highest 
degree concise, elegant, expressive, and even poetical, wanted, however, 
ease, simplicity, and nature, and was evidently the production of the 
most laboured and studied affectation. How many great qualities 
must that writer possess, who can thus render his very faults agreeable? 
After the praise of refining the taste of a nation, the highest eulogy, 
perhaps, which can be bestowed upon any author, is to say, that he 
corrupted it. In our own language, Mr. Pope and Dr. Swift have each 
of them introduced a manner different from what was practised before, 
into all works that are written in rhyme, the one in long verses, the 
other in short. The quaintness of Butler has given place to the plain- 
ness of Swift. The rambling freedom of Dryden, and the correct but 
often tedious and prosaic languor of Addison, are no longer the objects 
of imitation, but all long verses are now written after the manner of the 
nervous precision of Mr. Pope. 

Neither is it only over the productions of the arts, that custom and 
fashion exert their dominion. They influence our judgments, in the 
same manner, with regard to the beauty of natural objects. What 
various and opposite forms are deemed beautiful in different species of 
things ? The proportions which are admired in one animal, are alto- 
gether different from those which are esteemed in another. Every 
class of things has its own peculiar conformation, which is approved 
of, and has a beauty of its own, distinct from that of every other species. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 175 

It is upon this account that a learned Jesuit, Father Buffier, has deter- 
mined that the beauty of eyery object consists in that fonn and colour, 
which is most usual among things of that particular sort to which it 
belongs. Thus, in the human form, the beauty of each feature lies in 
a certain middle, equally removed from a variety of other forms that 
are ugly. A beautiful nose, for example, is one that is neither very long, 
nor very short, neither very straight, nor very crooked, but a sort of 
middle among all these extremes, and less diiierent from any one of 
them, than all of them are from one another. It is the form which 
nature seems to have aimed at in theiti all, which, however, she deviates 
from in a great variety of ways, and very seldom hits exactly ; but to 
which all those deviations still bear a very strong resemblance. When 
a number of drawings are made after one pattern, though they may all 
miss it in some respects, yet they will all resemble it more than they 
resemble one another; the general character of the pattern will run 
through them all ; the most singular and odd will be those which are 
most wide of it ; and though very few will copy it exactly, yet the most 
accurate delineations will bear a greater resemblance to the most care^ 
less, than the careless ones will bear to one another. In the same 
manner, in each species of creatures, what is most beautiful bears the 
strongest characters of the general fabric of the species, and has the 
strongest resemblance to the greater part of the individuals with which 
it is classed. Monsters, on the contrary, or what is perfectly deformed, 
are always most singular and odd, and have the least resemblance to 
the generality of that species to which they belong. And thus the 
beauty of each species, though in one sense the rarest of all things, 
because few individuals hit this middle form exactly, yet in another, is 
the most common, because all the deviations from it resemble it more 
than they resemble one another. The most customary form, therefore, 
is in each species of things, according to him, the most beautiful. And 
hence it is that a certain practice and experience in contemplating each 
species of objects is requisite before we can judge of its beauty, or 
know wherein the middle and most usual form consists. The nicest 
judgment concerning the beauty of the human species will not help us 
to judge of that of flowers, or horses, or any other species of things. 
It is for the same reason that in different climates, and where different 
customs and ways of living take place, as the generahty of any species 
receives a different conformation from those circumstances, so different 
ideas of its beauty prevail. The beauty of a Moorish is not exactly 
the same with that of an English horse. What different ideas are 
formed in different nations concerning the beauty of the human 
shape and countenance.? A fair complexion is a shocking deformity 
upon the coast of Guinea. Thick lips and a flat nose are a beauty. 
In some nations long ears that hang down upon the shoulders are 
the objects of universal admiration. In China if a lady's foot is so 


large as to be fit to walk upon, she is regarded as a monster of ugliness. 
Some of the savage nations in North America tie four boards round 
the heads of their children, and thus squeeze them, while the bones are 
tender and gristly, into a form that is almost perfectly square.. Euro- 
peans are astonished at the absurd barbarity of this practice, to which 
some missionaries have imputed the singular stupidity of those nations 
among whom it prevails. But when they condemn those savages, they 
do not reflect that the ladies in Europe had, till within these very few 
years, been endeavouring, for near a century past, to squeeze thebeauti- 
iful roundness of their natural shape into a square form of the same 
kind. And that, notwithstanding the many distortions and diseases 
which this practice was known to occasion, custom had rendered it 
agreeable among some of the most civilized nations which, perhaps, the 
world has ever beheld. 

Such is the system of this learned and ingenious *father, concerning 
the nature of beauty ; of which the whole charm, according to him, 
would thus seem to arise from its falling in with the habits which 
custom had impressed upon the imagination, with regard to things of 
each particular kind. I cannot, however, be induced to believe that 
our sense even of external beauty is founded altogether on custom. 
The utility of any form, its fitness for the useful purposes for which it 
was intended evidently recommends it, and renders it agreeable to us, 
independent of custom. Certain colours are more agreeable than 
others, and give more delight to the eye the first time it ever beholds 
them. A smooth surface is more agreeable than a rough one. Variety 
is more pleasing than a tedious undiversified uniformity. Connected 
variety, in which each new appearance seems to be introduced by what 
went before it, and in which all the adjoining parts seem to have some 
natural relation to one another, is more agreeable than a disjointed 
and disorderly assemblage of unconnected objects. But though I 
cannot admit that custom is the sole principle of beauty, yet I can so 
far allow the truth of this ingenious system as to grant, that there is 
scarce any one external form so beautiful as to please, if quite contrary 
to custom and unlike whatever we have ever been used to in that 
particular species of things : or so deformed as not to be agreeable, if 
custom unifonnly supports it, and habituates us to see it in every single 
individual of the kind. 

Chap. II. — Of the Influence of Custom and Fashion upon Moral 

Since our sentiments concerning beauty of every kind, are so much 
influenced by custom and fashion, it cannot be expected, that those, 
concerning the beauty of conduct, should be entirely exempted from 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 177 

the dominion of those principles. Their influence here, however, 
seems to be much less than it is every where else. There is, perhaps, 
no form of external objects, how absurd and fantastical soever, to which 
custom will not reconcile us, or which fashion will not render even 
agreeable. But the characters atod conduct of a Nero, or a Claudius, 
are what no custom will ever reconcile us to, what no fashion wiU ever 
render agreeable ; but the one will always be the object of dread and 
hatred ; the other of scorn and derision. The principles of the imagi- 
nation, upon which our sense of beauty depends, are of a very nice 
and delicate nature, and may easily be altered by habit and education : 
but the sentiments of moral approbation and disapprobation, are 
founded on the strongest and most vigorous passions of human nature ; 
and though they may be warped, cannot be entirely perverted. 

But though the influence of custom and fashion upon moral senti- 
ments, is not altogether so great, it is however perfectly similar to what 
it is every where else. When custom and fashion coincide with the 
natural principles of right and wrong, they heighten the delicacy of 
our sentiments, and increase our abhorrence for every thing which 
approaches to eviL Those who have been educated in what is really 
good company, not in what is commonly called such, who have been 
accustomed to see nothing in the persons whom they esteemed and 
lived with, but justice, modesty, humanity, and good order ; are more 
shocked with whatever seems to be inconsistent with the rules which 
those virtues prescribe. Those, on the contrary, who have had the 
misfortune to be brought up amidst violence, licentiousness, falsehood, 
and injustice, lose, though not all sense ojf the impropriety of such 
conduct, yet all sense of its dreadful enormity, or of the vengeance and 
punishment due to it They have been familiarized with it from their 
infancy, custom has rendered it habitual to them, and they are very apt 
to regard it as, what is called, the way of the world, something which 
either may, or must be practised, to hinder us from being made the 
dupes of our own integrity. 

Fashion, too, will sometimes give reputation to a certain degree of 
disorder, and, on the contrary, discountenance qualities which deserve 
esteem. In the reign of Charles II. a degree of licentiousness was 
deemed the characteristic of a liberal education. It was connected, 
according to the notions of those times, with generosity, sincerity, 
magnanimity, loyalty, and proved that the person who acted in this 
manner, was a gentleman, and not a puritan. Severity of manners, 
and regularity of conduct, on the other hand, were altogether unfashion- 
able, and were connected, in the imagination of that age, with cant, 
cunning, hypocrisy, and low manners. To superficial minds, the vices 
of the great seem at all times agreeable. They connect them, not 
only with the splendour of fortune, but with many superior virtues, 
which they ascribe to their superiors ; with the spirit of freedom and 


independency, with frankness, generbshy, humanity, and ' politeness. 
The virtues of the inferior ranks of people, on the contrary, their parsi- 
monious frugality, their painful industry, and rigid adherence to 
rules, seems to them mean and disagreeable. They connect them, 
both with the meanness of the station to which those quahties do 
commonly belong, and with many great vices which, they suppose, 
very usually accompany them ; such as an abject, cowardly, ill-natured, 
lying, and pilfering disposition* 

The objects with which men in the different professions and states of 
life are conversant, being very different, and ha,bituating them to very 
different passions, naturally^ form in them very different characters and 
manners. We expect in each rank and profession, a degree of those 
nianners, which, experience has taught us, belong to it. But as in each 
species of things, we are particularly pleased with the middle confor- 
mation, which, in every part and feature, agrees most exactly with the 
general standard which nature seems to have estabhshed for things of 
that kind ; so in each rank, or, if I may say so, in each species of men, 
we are particularly pleased, if they have neither too much, nor too 
little of the character which usually accompanies their paaticular con- 
dition and situation. A man, we say, should look like his trade and 
profession ; yet the pedantry of every profession is disagreeable. The 
different periods of life have, for the same reason, different manners 
assigned to them. We expect in old age, that gravity and sedateness 
which its infirmities, its long experience, and its worn-out sensibility 
seem to render both natural and respectable ; and we lay our account 
to find in youth that sensibility, that gaiety and sjM-ightly vivacity which 
experience teaches us to expect from the lively impressions that all 
interesting objects are apt to make upon the tender and unpractised 
senses of that early period of life. Each of those two ages, however, 
may easily have too much of these peculiarities which belong to it. The 
flirting levity of youth, and the immovable insensibility of old age, are 
equally disagreeable. The young, according to the common saying, 
are most agreeable when in their behaviour there is something of the 
manners of the old, and the old, when they retain something of the 
gaiety of the young. Either of them, however, may easily have too 
much of the manners of the other. The extreme coldness,, and the 
dull formality, which are paurdoned in old age, make youth ridiculous. 
The levity, the carelessness, and the vanity, which are indulged in 
youth, will render old age contemptible. 

The peculiar character and maimers which we are led by custom to 
appropriate to each rank and profession, have sometimes perhaps a 
propriety independent of custom ; and are what we should approve of 
for their own sakes, if we took into consideration aU the different 
circumstances which naturally affect those in each different state of 
life. The propriety of a person's behaviour, depends not upon its 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 179 

suitableness to any one circumstance of bis situation, but to all the 
circumstances, which, when we bring his case home to ourselves, we 
feel, should naturally call upon his attention* If he appears to be so 
much occupied by any one of them, as entirely to neglect the rest, we 
disapprove of his conduct, as something which we cannot entirely go 
along with, because not properly adjusted to all the circumstances of 
his situation : yet, perhaps, the emotion he expresses for the object 
which principally interests him, does not exceed what we should 
entirely sympathize with, and approve of, in one whose attention was 
not required by any other thing. A parent in private life might, upon 
the loss of an only son, express without blame a degree of grief and 
tenderness, which would be unpardonable in a general at the head of 
an army, when glory, and the public safety, demanded so great a part 
of his attention. As different objects ought, upon common occasions, 
to occupy the attention of men of different professions, so different 
passions ought naturally to become habitual to them ; and when we 
bring home to ourselves their situation in this particular respect, we 
must be sensible, that every occurrence should naturally affect them 
more or less, according as the emotion which it excites, coincides or 
disagrees with the fixed habit and temper of their minds. We cannot 
expect the same sensibility to the gay pleasures and amusements of 
life in a clergyman, which we lay our account with in an officer. The 
man whose peculiar occupation it is to keep the world in mind of that 
awful futurity which awaits him, who is to announce what may be the 
fatal consequences of every deviation from the rules of duty, and who 
is himself to set the example of the most exact conformity, seems to be 
the messenger of tidings, which cannot, in propriety, be delivered 
either with levity or indifference. His mind is supposed to be continu- 
ally occupied with what is too grand and solemn, to leave any room 
for the impressions of those frivolous objects, which fill up the atten- 
ticm of the dissipated and the gay. We readily feel therefore, that, 
independent of custom, there is a propriety in the manners which 
custom has allotted to this profession ; and that nothing can be more 
suitable to the character of a cleigyman, than that grave, that austere 
and abstracted severity, which we are habituated to expect in his 
behaviour. These reflections are so very obvious, that there is scarce 
any man so inconsiderate, as not, at some time, to have made them, 
and to have accounted to himself in this manner for his approbation of 
the useful character of the clerical order. 

The foundation of the customary character of some other profes- 
sions is not so obvious, and our approbation of it is founded entirely 
in the habit, without being either confirmed or enlivened by any re- 
flections of this kind. We are led by custom, for example, to annex 
the character of gaiety, levity, and sprightly freedom, as well as of 
some degree of dissipation, to the mihtary profession. Yet, if we were 


to consider what mood or tone of temper would be most suitable to 
this situation, we should be apt to determine, perhaps, that the most 
serious and thoughtful turn of mind would best become those whose 
lives are continually exposed to uncommon danger, and who should 
therefore be more constantly occupied with the thoughts of death and 
its consequences than other men. It is this very circumstance, how- 
ever, which is not improbably the occasion why the contrary turn of 
mind prevails so much among men of this profession. It requires so 
great an effort to conquer the fear of death, when we survey it with 
steadiness and attention, that those who are constantly exposed to it, 
find it easier to turn away their thoughts from it altogether, to wrap 
themselves up in careless security and indifference, and to plunge them- 
selves, for this purpose, into every sort of amusement and dissipation. 
A camp is not the element of a thoughtfiil or a melancholy man : per- 
sons of that cast, indeed, are often abundantly determined, and are 
capable, by a great effort, of going on with inflexible resolution to the 
most unavoidable death. But to be exposed to continual, though less 
imminent danger, to be obliged to exert, for a long time, a degree of 
this effort, exhausts and depresses the mind, and renders it incapable 
of all happiness and enjoyment The gay and careless, who have 
occasion to make no effort at all, who fairly resolve never to look before 
them, but to lose in continual pleasures and amusements all anxiety 
about their situation, more easily support such circumstances. When- 
ever, by any peculiar circumstances, an officer has no reason to lay his 
account with being exposed to any uncommon danger, he is very apt to 
lose the gaiety and dissipated thoughtlessness of his character. The 
captain of a city guard is commonly as sober, careful, and penurious 
an animal as the rest of his fellow-citizens. A long peace is, for the 
same reason, very apt to diminish the difference between the civil and 
the military character. The ordinary situation, however, of men of this 
profession, renders gaiety, and a degree of dissipation, so much their 
usual character ; and custom has, in our imagination, so strongly con- 
nected this character with this state of life, that we are very apt to 
despise any man, whose peculiar humour or situation renders him in- 
capable of acquiring it We laugh at the grave and careful faces of a 
city guard, which so little resemble those of their profession. They 
themselves seem often to be ashamed of the regularity of their own 
manners, and, not to be out of the fashion of their trade, are fond of 
affecting that levity, which is by no means natural to them. Whatever 
is the deportment which we have been accustomed to see in a respect- 
able order of men, it comes to be so associated in our imagination with 
that order, that whenever we see the one, we lay our account that we 
are to meet with the other, and when disappointed, miss something 
which we expected to find. We are embarrassed, and put to a stand, 
and know not how to address ourselves to a character, which plainly 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. z8x 

affects to be of a different species from those with which we should have 
been disposed to class it 

The different situations of different ages and countries are apt, in the 
same manner, to give different characters to the generahty of those who 
live in them, and their sentiments concerning the particular degree of 
each quality, that is either blamable or praise-worthy, vary according 
to that degree which is usual in their own country, and in their own 
times. That degree of poHteness which would be highly esteemed, 
perhaps would be thought effeminate adulation, in Russia, would be 
regarded as rudeness and barbarism at the court of France. That 
degree of order and frugality, which, in a Polish nobleman, would be 
considered as excessive parsimony, would be regarded as extravagance 
in a citizen of Amsterdam. Every age and country look upon that 
degree of each quality, which is conmionly to be met with in those who 
are esteemed among themselves, as the golden mean of that particular 
talent or virtue. And as this varies, according as their different cir- 
cumstances render different qualities more or less habitual to them, 
their sentiments concerning the exact propriety of character and be- 
haviour vary accordingly. 

Among civilized nations, the virtues which are founded upon 
humanity, are more cultivated than those which are founded upon self- 
denial and the command of the passions. Among rude and barbarous 
nations, it is quite otherwise, the virtues of self-denial are more culti- 
vated than those of humanity. The general security and happiness 
which prevail in ages of civility and politeness, afford little exercise to 
the contempt of danger, to patience in enduring labour, hunger, and 
pain. Poverty may easily be avoided, and the contempt of it therefore 
almost ceases to be a virtue. The abstinence from pleasure becomes 
less necessary, and the mind is more at liberty to unbend and to in- 
dulge its natural inclinations in all those particular respects. 

Among savages and barbarians it is quite otherwise. Every savage 
undergoes a sort of Spartan discipline, and by the necessity of his situ- 
ation is inured to every sort of hardship. He is in continual danger : 
he is often exposed to the greatest extremities of hunger, and frequently 
dies of pure want His circumstances not only habituate him to every 
sort of distress, but teach him to give way to none of the passions which 
that distress is apt to excite. He can expect from his countrymen no 
sympathy or indulgence for such weakness. Befbre we can feel much 
for others, we must in some measure be at ease ourselves. If our own 
misery pinches us very severely, we have no leisure to attend to that of 
our neighbour : and all sav^es are too much occupied with their own 
wants and necessities, to give much attention to those of another per- 
son. A savage, therefore, whatever be the nature of his distress, 
expects no sympathy from those about him, and disdains, upon that 
account, to expose himself, by allowing the least weakness to escape 


him. His passions, how furious and violent soever, are never per- 
mitted to disturb the serenity of his countenance or the composure of 
his conduct and behaviour. The savages in North America, we are 
told, assume upon all occasions the greatest indifference, and would 
think themselves degraded if they should ever appear in any respect to 
be overccMne, either by love, or grief, or resentment Their magnani- 
mity and self-command, in this respect, are almost beyond the concep- 
tion of Europeans. In a country in which aU men are upon a level, 
with regard to rank and fortune, it might be expected that the mutual 
inclinations of the two parties should be the only thing considered in 
marriages, and should be indulged witliout any sort of control This, 
however^ is the country in which all marriages, without exception, are 
made up by the parents, and in which a yoimg man would think him- 
self disgraced for ever, if he showed the least preference of one woman 
above another, or did not express the most complete indifference, both 
about the time when, and the person to whcun, he was to be married 
The weakness of* love, which is so indulged in ages of humanity and 
politeness, is regarded among savages as the most unpardonable effe- 
minacy. Even after the marriage, the two parties seem to be ashamed 
of a connexion which is founded upon so sordid a necessity. They do 
not live together. They see one another by stealth only. They both 
continue to dwell in the houses of their respective fathers, and the open 
cohabitation of the two sexes, which is permitted without blame in all 
other countries, is here considered as the most indecent and unmanly 
sensuality. Nor is it only over this agreeable passion that they exert 
this absolute self-command. They often bear, in the sight of all their 
countrymen, with injuries, reproach, and the grossest insults, with the 
appearance of the greatest insensilxlity, and without expressing the 
smallest resentment. When a savage is made prisoner of war, and 
receives, as is usual, the sentence of death from his conquerors, he hears 
it without expressing any emotion, and afterwards submits to the most 
dreadful torments, without ever bemoaning himself, or discovering any 
other passion but contempt of his enemies. While he is hung by the 
shoulders over a slow fire, he derides his tormentors, and tells them 
with how much more ingenuity he himself had tormented such of their 
countrymen as had fallen into his hands. After he has been scorched 
and burnt, and lacerated in all the most tender and sensible parts of 
his body for several hours together, he is often allowed, in order to pro- 
long his misery, a short respite, and is taken down from the stake : he 
employs this interval in talking upon all indifferent subjects, inquires 
after the news of the country, and seems indifferent about nothing but 
his own situation. The spectators express the same insensibility ; the 
sight of so horrible an object seems to make no impression upon them ; 
they scarce look at the prisoner, except when they lend a hand to tor- 
ment him. * At other times they smoke tobacco, and amuse themselves 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. I S3 

with any commoii object, as if no such matter was going on. Every 
savage is said to prepare himself from his earliest youth for this dread- 
ful end. He composes, for this purpose, what they call the song of 
death, a song which he is to sing when he has fallen into the hands of 
his enemies, and is expiring under the tortures which they inflict upon 
him. It consists of insults upon his tormentors, and expresses the 
highest contempt of death and pain. He sings this song upon all ex- 
traordinary occasions, when he goes out to war, when he meets his 
enemies in the field, or whenever he has a mind to show that he has 
familiarised his imagination to the most dreadful misfortunes, and that 
no human event can daunt his resolution or alter his purpose. The 
same contempt of death and torture prevails among all other savage 
nations. There is not a negro from the coast of Africa, who does not 
in this respect, possess a degree of magnanimity which the soul of his 
sordid master is too often scarce capable of conceiving. Fortune never 
exerted more cruelly her empire over manldnd, than when she sub- 
jected those nations of heroes to the refuse of the jails of Europe, to 
wretches who possess the virtues neither of the countries which they 
come from, nor of those which they go to, and whose levity, brutality, 
and baseness, expose them to the contempt of the vanquished. 

This heroic and unconquerable firmness, which the custom and edu- 
cation of his country demand of every savage, is not required of those 
who are brought up to live in civilized societies. If these last complain 
when they are in pain, if they grieve when they are in distress, if they 
allow themselves either to be overcome by love, or to be discomposed 
by anger, they are easily pardoned. Such weaknesses are not appre- 
hended to affect the essential parts of their character. As long as they 
do not allow themselves to be transported to do anything contrary to 
justice or humanity, they lose but little reputation, though the serenity 
of their countenance, or the composure of their discourse and behaviour 
should be somewhat rufHed and disturbed. A humane and polished 
people, who have more sensibility to the passions of others, can more 
readily enter into an animated and passionate behaviour, and can 
more easily pardon some little excess. The person principally con- 
cerned is sensible of this ; and being assured of the equity of his judges, 
indulges himself in stronger expressions of passion, and is less afraid 
of exposing himself to their contempt by the violence of his emo- 
tions. We can venture to express more emotion in the presence of a 
friend than in that of a stranger, because we expect more indulgence 
from the one than from the other. And in the same manner the rules 
of decorum amongst civihzed nations, admit of a more animated be- 
haviour, than is approved of among barbarians. The first converse 
together with the openness of friends ; the second with the reserve of 
strangers. The emotion and vivacity with which the French and the 
Italians, the two most polished nations upon the continent, express 


themselves on occasions that are at all interesting, surprise at first 
those strangers who happen to be travelling among them, and who, 
having been educated among a people of duller sensibility, cannot enter 
into this passionate behaviour, of which they have never seen any ex- 
ample in their own country. A young French nobleman will weep in 
the presence of the whole court upon being refused a regiment An 
Italian, says the Abbot Du Bos, expresses more anotion on being con- 
demned in a fine of twenty shillings, than an Englishman on receiving 
the sentence of death. Cicero, in the times of the highest Roman 
politeness, could, without degrading himself, weep with all the bitter- 
ness of sorrow in the sight of the whole senate and the whole people ; as 
it is evident he must have done in the end of almost every oration. The 
orators of the earlier and ruder ages of Rome could riot probably, con- 
sistent with the manners of the times, have expressed themselves with 
so much emotion. It would have been regarded, I suppose, as a viola- 
tion of nature and propriety in the Scipios, in the Leliuses, and in the 
elder Cato, to have exposed so much tenderness to the view of the pub- 
lic. Those ancient warriors could express themselves with order, 
gravity, and good judgment : but are said to have been strangers to 
that sublime and passionate eloquence which was first introduced into 
Rome, not many years before the birth of Cicero, by the two Gracchi, 
by Crassus, and by Sulpitius. This animated eloquence, which has 
been long practised, with or without success, both in France and Italy, 
is but just beginning to be introduced into England. So wide is the 
difference between the degrees of self-command which are required in 
civilized and in barbarous nations, and by such different standards do 
they judge of the propriety of behaviour. 

This difference gives occasion to many others that are not less essen- 
tial A polished people being accustomed to give way, in some 
measure, to the movements of nature, become frank, open, and sincere. 
Barbarians, on the contrary, being obliged to smother and conceal the 
appearance of every passion, necessarily acquire the habits of false- 
hood and dissimulation. It is observed by all those who have been 
conversant with savage nations, whether in Asia, Africa, or America, 
that they are equally impenetrable, and that, when they have a mind to 
conceal the truth, no examination is capable of drawing it from them. 
They cannot be trepanned by the most artful questions. The torture 
itself is incapable of making them confess any thing which they have 
no mind to tell. The passions of a savage too, though they never ex- 
press themselves by an outward emotion, but lie concealed in the breast 
of the sufferer, are, notwithstanding, all mounted to the highest pitch 
of fury. Though he seldom shows any symptoms of anger, yet his 
vengeance, when he comes to give way to it, is always sanguinary and 
dreadful. The least affront drives him to despair. His Countenance 
and discourse indeed, are still sober and composed, and express nothing 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. I 8s 

but the most perfect tranquillity of mind but his actions are often the 
most furious and violent Among the North Americans it is not un- 
common for persons of the tenderestage and more fearful sexto drown 
themselves upon receiving only a slight reprimand from their mothers, 
and this too without expressing any passion, or saying any thing, ex- 
cept, you shall no longer have a daughter. In civiUzed nations the 
passions of men are not commonly so furious or so desperate. They 
are often clamorous and noisy, but are seldom very hurtful ; and seem 
frequently to aim at no other satisfaction, but that of convincing the 
spectator, that they are in the right to be so much moved, and of pro- 
curing his sympathy and approbation. 

All these effects of custom and fashion, however, upon the moral 
sentiments of mankind, are inconsiderable, in comparison of those 
which they give occasion to in some other cases ; and it is not concern- 
ing the general style of character and behaviour, that those principles 
produce the greatest perversion of judgment, but concerning the pro- 
priety or impropriety of particular usages. 

The different manners which custom teaches us to approve of in the 
different professions and states of life, do not concern things of the 
greatest importance. We expect truth and justice from an old man as 
well as from a young, from a clergyman as well as from an officer ; and 
it is in matters of small moment only that we look for the distinguishing 
marks of their respective characters. With regard to these, too, there 
is often some unobserved circumstance which, if it was attended to, 
would show us, that, independent of custom, there was a propriety in 
the character which custom had taught us to allot to each profession. 
We cannot complain, therefore, in this case, that the perversion of na- 
tural sentiment is very great Though the manners of different nations 
require different degrees of the same quality, in the character which 
they think worthy of esteem, yet the worst that can be said to happen 
even here, is that the duties of one virtue are sometimes extended so as 
to encroach a little upon the precincts of some other. The rustic hos- 
pitality that is in fashion among the Poles encroaches, perhaps, a httle 
upon oeconomy and good order ; and the frugality that is esteemed in 
Holland, upon generosity and good-fellowship. The hardiness demanded 
of savages diminishes their humanity ; and, perhaps, the delicate sen- 
sibility required in civilized nations, sometimes destroys the masculine 
firmness of the character. In general, the style of manners which 
takes place in any nation, may commonly upon the whole be said to be 
that which is most suitable to its situation. Hardiness is the character 
most suitable to the circumstances of a savage; sensibility to those of 
one who lives in ^ very civilized country. Even here, therefore, we 
cannot complain that the moral sentiments of men, as displayed by 
them, are very grossly perverted. 

It is not therefore in the general style of conduct or behaviour that 



custom authorises the widest departure from what is the natural pro- 
priety of action. With regard to particular usages, its influence is often 
much more destructive of good morals, and it is capable of establishing, 
as lawful and blameless, particular actions, which shock the very 
plainest principles of right and wrong. 

Can there be greater barbarity, for exan^le, than to hurt an infant? 
Its helplessness, its innocence, its amiableness, call forth the compas- 
sion, even of an enemy, and not to spare that tender age is regarded as 
the most furious effort of an enraged and cruel conqueror. What then 
should we imagine must be the heart of a parent who could injure that 
weakness which even a furious enemy is afraid to violate ? Yet the ex- 
position, that is, the murder of new-born infants, was a practice allowed 
of in almost all the states of Greece, even among the polite and civil- 
ized Athenians ; and whenever the circumstances of the parent rendered 
it inconvenient to bring up the child, to abandon it to hunger or to wild 
beasts was regarded without blame or censure. This practice had 
probably begun in times of the most savage barbarity. The imagina- 
tions of JTi&a. had been first made familiar with it in that earliest period 
of society, and the uniform continuance of the custom had hindered 
them afterwards from perceiving its enormity. We find, at this day, 
that this practice prevails among all savage nations ; and in that rudest 
and lowest state of society it is undoubtedly more pardonable than in 
any other. The extreme indigence of a savage is often such that he 
himself is frequently exposed to the greatest extremity of hunger, he 
often dies of pure want, and it is frequently impossible for him to sup- 
port both himself and his child. We cannot wonder, therefore, that in 
this case he should abandon it. One who, in flying from an enemy, 
whom it was impossible to resist, should throw down his infant, because 
it retarded his flight, would surely be excusable; since, by attempting 
to save it, he could only hope for the consolation of dying with it That 
in this state of society, therefore, a parent should be allowed to judge 
whether he can bring up his child, ought not to surprise us so greatly. 
In the latter ages of Greece, however, the same thing was permitted 
from views of remote interest or convenlency, which could by no means 
excuse it Uninterrupted custom had by this time so thoroughly author- 
ised the practice, that not only the loose mjgdms of the world tolerated 
this barbarous prerogative, but even the doctrine of philosophers, which 
ought to have been more just and accurate, was led away by the esta- 
blished custom, and upon this, as upon many other occasions, instead 
of censuring, supported the horrible abuse, by far-fetched considerations 
of public utility. Aristotle talks of it as of what the magistrate ought 
upon many occasions to encourage. The humane Plato is of the same 
opinion, and, with all that love of mankind which seems to animate all 
his writings, no where marks this practice with disapprobation. When 
custom can give sanction to so dreadful a violation of humanity, we 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 187 

may well imagine that there is scarce any particular practice so gross 
which it cannot authorise. Such a thing, we hear men every day say- 
ing, is commonly done, and they seem to think this a sufficient apology 
for what, in itself, is the most unjust and unreasonable conduct 

There is an obvious reason why custom should never pervert our 
sentiments with regard to the general style and character of conduct J 
and behaviour, in the same degree as with regard to the propriety or 
unlawfulness of particular ' usages. There never can be any such 
custom. No society could subsist a moment, in which the usual strain 
of men's conduct and behaviour was of a piece with the horrible 
practice I have just now mentioned. 

Part VL—Ofthe Character of Virtue. 

Introduction. — ^When we consider the character of any individual, 
we naturally view it under two different aspects ; first, as it may aflfect 
his own happiness ; and secondly, as it may affect that of other people. 

Sec I.— Of the Character of the Individual, so far as it 


The preservation and healthful state of the body seem to be the objects 
which Nature first recommends to the care of every individual The 
appetites of hunger and thirst, the agreeable or disagreeable sensations 
of pleasure and pain, of heat and cold, &c., may be considered as les- 
sons delivered by the voice of Nature herself, directing him what he 
ought to choose, and what he ought to avoid, for this purpose. The 
first lessons which he is taught by those to whom his childhood is 
entrusted, tend, the greater part of them, to the same purpose. Their 
principal object is to teach him how to keep out of harm's way. 

As he grows up, he soon learns that some care and foresight are 
necessary for providing the means of gratifying those natural appetites, 
of procuring pleasure and avoiding pain, of procuring the agreeable 
and avoiding the disagreeable temperature of heat and cold. In the 
proper direction of this care and foresight consists the art of preserving 
and increasing what is called his external fortune. 

Though it is in order to supply the necessities and conveniencies of 
the body, that the advantages of external fortune are originally recom- 
mended to us, yet we cannot live long in the world without perceiving 
that the respect of our equals, our credit and rank in the society we 
Uve in, depend very much upon the degree in which we possess, or are 
supposed to possess, those advantages. The desire of becoming the 

• 13 


proper objects of this respect, of deserving and obtaining this credit 
and rank among our equals, is, perhaps, the strongest of all our desires, 
and our anxiety to obtain the advantages of fortune is accordingly 
much more excited and irritated by this desire, than by that of supply- 
ing all the necessities and conveniencies of the body, which are always 
very easily supplied to us. 

Our rank and credit among our equals, too, depend very much upon, 
what, perhaps, a virtuous man would wish them to depend entirely, our 
character and conduct, or upon the confidence, esteem, and good-will, 
which these naturally excite in the people we live with. 

The care of the health, of the fortune, of the rank and reputation of 
the individual, the objects upon which his comfort and happiness in 
this life are supposed principally to depend, is considered as the proper 
business of that virtue which is commonly called Prudence. 

We suffer more, it has already been observed, when we fall from a 
better to a worse situation, than we ever enjoy when we rise from a 
worse to a better. Security, therefore, is the first and the principal 
object of prudence. It is averse to expose our health, our fortune, our 
. rank, or reputation, to any sort of hazard. It is rather cautious than 
enterprising, and more anxious to preserve the advantages which we 
already possess, than forward to prompt us to the acquisition of still 
greater advantages. The methods of improving our fortune, which it 
principally recommends to us, are those which expose to no loss or 
hazard ; real knowledge and skill in our trade or profession, assiduity 
and industry in the exercise of it, frugality, and even some degree of 
parsimony, in all our expenses. 

The prudent man always studies seriously and earnestly to under- 
stand whatever he professes to understand, and not merely to persuade 
other people that *ie understands it ; and though his talents may not 
always be very brilliant, they are always perfectly genuine. He neither 
endeavours to impose upon you by the cunning devices of an artful 
impostor, nor by the arrogant airs of an assuming pedant, nor by the 
confident assertions of a superficial and impudent pretender. He is 
not ostentatious even of the abilities which he really possesses. His 
conversation is simple and modest, and he is averse to all the quackish 
arts by which other people so frequently thrust themselves into public 
notice and reputation. For reputation in his profession he is naturally 
disposed to rely a good deal upon the solidity of his knowledge and 
abihties ; and he does not always think of cultivating the favour of 
those little clubs and cabals, who, in the superior arts and sciences, so 
often erect themselves into the supreme judges of merit ; and who 
make it their business to celebrate the talents and virtues of one 
another, and to decry whatever can come into competition with them. 
If he ever connects himself with any society of this kind, it is merely 
in self-defence, not with a view to impose upon the public, but to hin- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 189 

der the public from being imposed upon, to his disadvantage, by the 
clamoiurs, the whispers, or the intrigues, either of that particular 
society, or of some other of the same kind. 

The prudent man is always sincere, and feels horror at the very 
thought of exposing himself to the disgrace which attends upon the 
detection of falsehood. But though always sincere, he is not always 
frank and open ; and though he never tells any thing but the truth, he 
does not always think himself bound, when not properly called upon, 
to tell the whole truth. As he is cautious in his actions, so he is 
reserved in his speech ; and never rashly or unnecessarily obtrudes 
his opinion concerning either things or persons. 

The prudent man, though not always distinguished by the most 
exquisite sensibility, is always '^ery capable of friendship. But' his 
friendship is not that ardent and passionate, but too often transitory 
affection, which appears so delicious to the generosity of youth and 
inexperience. It is a sedate, but steady and faithful attachment to a 
few well-tried and well-chosen companions ; in the choice of whom he 
is not guided by the giddy admiration of shining accomplishments, but 
by the sober esteem of modesty, discretion, and good conduct But 
though capable of friendship, he is not always much disposed to 
jgeneral sociality. He rarely frequents, and more rarely figures in 
those convivial societies which are distinguished for the jollity and 
gaiety of their conversation. Their way of life might too often interfere 
with the regularity of his temperance, might interrupt the steadiness of 
his industry, or break in upon the strictness of his frugality. 

But though his conversation may not always be very sprightly or 
diverting, it is always perfectly inoffensive. He hates the thought of 
being guilty of any petulance or rudeness. He never assumes imper- 
tinently over any body, and, upon all common occasions, is willing to 
place himself rather below than above his equals. Both in his conduct 
and conversation, he is an exact observer of decency, and respects with 
an almost religious scrupulosity, all the established decorums and 
ceremonials of society. And, in this respect, he sets a much better 
example than has frequently been done by men of much more splendid 
talents and virtues, who, in all ages, from that of Socrates and Aris- 
tippus, down to that of Dr. Swift and Voltaire, and from that of Philip 
and Alexander the Great, down to that of the great Czar Peter of 
Muscovy, have too often distinguished themselves by the most im- 
proper and even insolent contempt of all the ordinary decorums of life 
and conversation, and who have thereby set the most pernicious exam- 
ple to those who wish to resemble them, and who too often content 
themselves with imitating their follies, without even attempting to 
attain their perfections. 

In the steadiness of his industry and frugality, in his steadily sacri- 
ficing the ease and enjoyment of the present moment for the probable 


expectation of the still greater ease and enjoyment of a more distant 
but more lasting period of time, the prudent man is always both sup- 
ported and rewarded by the entire approbation of the impartial spec- 
tator, and of the representative of the impartial spectator, the man 
within the breast The impartial spectator does not feel himself worn 
out by the present labour of those whose conduct he surveys ; nor does 
he feel himself solicited by the importunate calls of their present appe- 
tites. To hun their present, and what is likely to be their future, 
situation, are very nearly the same : he sees them nearly at the same 
distance, and is affected by them very nearly in the same manner. He 
knows, however, that to the persons principally concerned, they are 
very far from being the same, and that they naturally affect them in a 
very different manner. He cannot therefore but approve, and even 
applaud, that propw exertion of self-command, which enables them 
to act as if their present and their future situation affected them nearly 
in the same manner in which they affect him. 

The man who lives within his income, is naturally contented with his 
situation, which, by continual, though small accumulations, is growing 
better and better every day. He is enabled gradually to relax, both in 
the rigour of his parsimony and in the severity of his application ; and 
he feels with double satisfaction this gradual increase of ease and 
enjoyment, from having felt before the hardship which attended the 
want of them. He has no anxiety to change so comfortable a situation 
and does not go in quest of new enterprises and adventures, which 
might endanger, but could not well increase the secure tranquillity 
which he actually enjoys. If he enters into any new projects or enter- 
prises, they are likely to be well concerted and well prepared. He can 
never be hurried or driven into them by any necessity, but has always 
time and leisure to deliberate soberly and coolly concerning what are 
likely to be their consequences. 

The prudent man is not willing to subject himself to any responsi- 
bility which his duty does not impose upon him. He is not a bustler 
in business where he has no concern ; is not a meddler in other people's 
affairs; is not a professed counsellor or adviser, who obtrudes his 
advice where nobody is asking it. He confines himself, as much as 
his duty will permit, to his own affairs, and has no taste for that foolish 
importance which many people wish to derive from appearing to have 
some influence in the management of those of other people. He is 
averse to enter into any party disputes, hates faction, and is not always 
very forward to listen to the voice even of noble and great ambition. 
When distinctly called upon, he will not decline the service of his coun- 
try, but he will not cabal in order to force himself into it, and would 
be much better pleased that the public business were well managed by 
some other person, than that he himself should have the trouble, and 
incur the resposibility, of managing it. In the bottom of his heart he 

smith's theory op moral sentiments. X91 

\«rould prefer the undisturbed enjoyment of secure tranquillity, not only 
to all the vain splendour of successful ambition, but to the real and solid 
glory of performing the greatest and most magnanimous actions. 

Prudence, in short, when directed merely to the care of the health, 
of the fortune, ai:\d Uie rank and reputation of the individual, though 
it is regarded as a most respectable, and even in some degree, as an 
amiable and agreeable quality, yet it never is consi dered as one, either 
of the most endearing, or of the most ennobUng of the virtues. It 
commands a certain cold esteem, but does not seem entitled to any 
very ardent love or admiration. 

Wise and judicious conduct, when directed to greater and nobler 
purposes than the care of the health, the fortune, the rank and reputa- 
tion of the individual, is frequently and very properly called prudence. 
We talk of the prudence of the great general, of the great statesman, 
of the great legislator. Prudence is, in all these cases, combined with 
many greater and more splendid virtues, with valour, with extensive 
and strong benevolence, with a sacred regard to the rules of justice, 
and all these supported by a proper degree of self-command. This 
superior prudence, when carried to the highest degree of perfection, 
necessarily supposes the art, the talent, and the habit or disposition of 
acting with the most perfect propriety in every possible circumstance 
and situation. It necessarily supposes the utmost perfection of all 
the intellectual and of all the moral virtues. It is the best head joined 
to the best heart It is the most perfect wisdom combined with the 
most perfect virtue. It constitutes very nearly the character of the 
Academical or Peripatetic sage, as the superior prudence does that of 
the Epicmrean. 

Mere imprudence, or the mere want of the capacity to take care of 
one's-self, is, with the generous and humane, the object of compassion ; 
with those of less delicate sentiments, of neglect, or, at worst, of con* 
tempt, but never of hatred or indignation. When combined with other 
vices, however, it aggravates in the highest degree the infamy and dis- 
grace which would otherwise attend them. The artful knave, whose 
dexterity and address exempt him, though not from strong suspicions, 
yet from punishment or distinct detection, is too often received in the 
world with an indulgence which he by no means deserves. The awk- 
ward and foolish one, who, for want of this dexterity and address, is 
convicted and brought to punishment, is the object of universal hatred, 
contempt, and derision. In countries where great crimes frequently 
pass unpunished, the most atrocious actions become almost familiar, 
and cease to impress the people with that horror which is univer- 
sally felt in countries where an exact administration of justice takes 
place. The injustice is the same in both countries ; but the im- 
prudence is often very different. In the latter, great crimes are evi- 
dently great follies. In the former, they are not always considered as^ 


such. In Italy, during the greater part of the sixteenth centiuy, assassi- 
nations, murders, and even murders under trust, seem to have been 
almost familiar among the superior ranks of people. Caesar Borgia 
invited four of the little princes in his neighbourhood, who all possessed 
little sovereignties, and commanded little armies of their own, to a 
friendly conference at Senigaglia, where, as soon as they arrived, he put 
them all to death. This infamous action, though certainly not ap- 
proved of even in that age of crimes, seems to have contributed very 
little to the discredit, and not in the least to the ruin of the perpetrator. 
That ruin happened a few years after from causes altogether discon- 
nected with this crime. Machiavel, not indeed a man of the nicest 
morality even for his own times, was resident, as minister from the 
republic of Florence, at the court of Caesar Borgia when this crime was 
committed. He gives a very particular account of it, and in that pure, 
elegant, and simple language which distinguishes all his writings. He 
talks of it very coolly ; is pleased with the address with which Caesar 
Borgia conducted it ; has much contempt for the dupery and weakness 
of the sufferers ; but no compassion for their miserable and untimely 
death, and no sort of indignation at the cruelty and falsehood of their 
murderer. The violence and injustice of great conquerors are often 
regarded with foolish wonder and admiration ; those of petty thieves, 
robbers, and murderers, with contempt, hatred, and even horror upon 
all occasions. The former, though they are a hundred times more 
mischievous and destructive, yet when successful, they often pass for 
deeds of the most heroic magnanimity. The latter are always viewed 
with hatred and aversion, as the follies, as well as the crimes, of the 
lowest and most worthless of mankind. The injustice of the former is 
certainly, at least, as great as that of the latter ; but the folly and 
imprudence are not near so great A wicked and worthless man of 
parts often goes through the world with much more credit than he 
deserves. A wicked and worthless fool appears always, of all mortals, 
the most hateful, as well as the most contemptible. As prudence com- 
bined with other virtues, constitutes the noblest ; so imprudence com- 
bined with other vices, constitutes the vilest of all characters. 

Sect. II.— Of the Character of the Individual, so far as it 


Introduction. — The character of every individual, so far as it can 
affect the happiness of other people, must do so by its disposition 
either to hurt or to benefit them. 

Proper resentment for injustice attempted, or actually conmiitted, is 
the only motive which, in the eyes of the impartial spectator, can justify 
oiu: hurting or disturbing in any respect the happiness of our neighbour. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 193 

To do so from any other motive is itself a violation of the laws of 
justice, which force ought to be employed either to restrain or to punish. 
The wisdom of every state or commonwealth endeavours, as well as it 
can, to employ the force of the society to restrain those who are subject 
to its authority from hurtiiig or disturbing the happiness of one another. 
The rules which it establishes for this purpose, constitute the civil and 
criminal law of each particular state or country. The principles upon 
which those rules either are, or ought to be founded, are the subject of 
a particular science, of all sciences by far the most important, but 
hitherto, perhaps, the least cultivated, that of natural jurisprudence; 
concerning which it belongs not to our present subject to enter into any 
detail A sacred and religious regard not to hurt or disturb in any 
respect the happiness of our neighbour, even in those cases where no 
law can properly protect him, constitutes the character of the perfectly 
innocent and just man ; a character which, when carried to a certain 
delicacy of attention, is always highly respectable and even venerable 
for its own sake, and can scarce ever fail to be accompanied with many 
other virtues, with great feeling for other people, with great humanity 
and great benevolence. It is a character sufficiently understood, and 
requires no further explanation. In the present section I shall only 
endeavour to explain the foundation of that order which nature seems 
to have traced out for the distribution of our good offices, or for the 
direction and employment of our very limited powers of beneficence : 
first, towards individuals ; and secondly, towards societies. 

The same unerring wisdom, it will be found, which regulates every 
other part of her conduct, directs, in this respect too, the order of her 
recommendations ; which are always stronger or weaker in proportion 
as our beneficence is more or less necessary, or can be more or less 

Chap. I. — 0/ the Order in which Individuals are recommended by 
Nature to our Care and Attention. 

HvERY man, as the Stoics used to say, is first and principally recom- 
mended to his own care ; and every man is certainly, in every respect, 
fitter and abler to take care of himself than of any other person. Every 
man feels his own pleasures and his own pains more sensibly than those 
of other people. The former are the original sensations ; the latter the 
reflected or sympathetic images of those sensations. The former may 
be said to be the substance ; the latter the shadow. 

After himself, the'members of his own family, those who usually live 
in the same house with him, his parents, his children, his brothers and 
sisters, are naturally the objects of his warmest affections. They are 
iia,turally and usually the persons upon whose happiness or misery his 
conduct must have the greatest influence. He is more habituated to 


sympathize with them. He knows better how every thing is likely to 
affect them, and his sympathy with them is more precise and determi- 
nate, than it can be with the greater part of other people. It approaches 
nearer, in short, to what he feds for himsel£ 

This sympathy too, and the affections which aire founded on it, are 
by nature more strongly directed towards his children than towards his 
parents, and his tenderness for the former seems generally a more active 
principle, than his reverence and gratitude towards the latter. In the 
natural state of things, it has already been observed, the existence of 
the child, for some time after it comes into the world, depends alto- 
gether upon the care of the parent ; that of the parent does not natu- 
rally depend upon the care of the child. In the eye of nature, it would 
seem, a child is a more important object than an old man; and excites 
a much more lively, as wdl as a much more xmiversal sympathy. It 
ought to do so. Every thing may be expected, or at least hoped, from 
the child. In ordinary cases, very little can be either expected or hoped 
from the old man. The weakness of childhood interests the affections 
of the most brutal and hard-hearted. It is only to the virtuous and 
humane, that the infirmities of old age are not the objects of contempt 
and aversion. In ordinary cases, an old man dies without being much 
regretted by any body. Scarce a child can die without rending asunder 
the heart of somebody. 

The earliest friendships, the friendships which are naturally con- 
tracted when the heart is most susceptible of that feeling, are those 
among brothers and sisters. Their good agreement, while they remain 
in the same family, is necessary for its tranquillity and happiness. They 
are capable of giving more pleasure or pain to one another than to the 
greater part of other people. Their situation renders their mutual 
sympathy of the utmost importance to their common happiness ; and, 
by the wisdom of nature, the same situation, by obliging them to accom- 
modate to one another, renders that sympathy more habitual, and 
thereby more lively, more distinct, and more determinate. 

The children of brothers and sisters are naturally connected by the 
friendship which, after separating into different families, continues to 
take place between their parents. Their good agreement imjwroves the 
enjoyment of that friendship ; their discord would disturb it As they 
seldom live in the same family, however, though of more importance to 
one another than to the greater part of other people, they are of much 
less than brothers and sisters. As their mutual sympathy is less neces- 
sary, so it is less habitual, and therefore proportionably weaker. 

The children of cousins, being still less connected, are of still less 
importance to one another; and the affection gradually diminishes as 
the relation grows more and more remote. 

What is called affection, is in reality nothing but habitual sympathy. 
Our concern in the happiness or misery of those who are the objects of 

smieh's theory of moral sentiments. 19s 

what we can our affections ; our desire to promote the one, and to pre- 
vent the other; are either the actual feeling of that habitual sympathy, 
or the necessary consequences of that feeling. Relations being usually 
placed in situations which naturally create this habitual sympathy, it is 
expected that a suitable degree of affection should take place among 
them. We generally find that it actually does take place ; we therefore 
naturally expect that it should ; and we are, upon that account, more 
shocked when, upon any occasion, we find that it does not The 
general rule is established, that persons related to one another in a 
certain degree, ought always to be affected towards one another in a 
certain manner, and that there is always the highest impropriety, and 
sometimes even a sort of impiety, in their being affected in a different 
manner. A parent without parental tenderness, a child devoid of all 
filial reverence, appear monsters, the objects, not of hatred only, but of 
horror to their neighbours. 

Though in a particular instance, the circumstances which usually 
produce those natural affections, as they are called, may, by some 
accident, not have taken place, yet respect for the general rule will 
frequently, in some measure, supply their place, and produce something 
which, though not altogether the same, may bear, however, a very con- 
siderable resemblance to those affections. A father is apt to be less 
attached to a child, who, by some accident, has been separated from 
him in its infancy, and who does not return to him tiU it is grown up to 
manhood. The father is apt to feel less paternal tenderness for the 
child; the child, less fihal reverence for the father. Brothers and 
sisters, when they have been educated in distant countries, are apt to 
feel a similar diminution of affection. With the dutiful and the virtu- 
ous, however, respect for the general rule will frequently produce some- 
thing which, though by no means the same, yet may very much 
resemble those natural affections. Even during the separation, the 
father and the child, the brothers or the sisters, are by no means 
indifferent to one another. They all consider one another as persons 
to and from whom certain affections are due, and they live in the hopes 
of being some time or another in a situation to enjoy that friendship 
which ought naturally to have taken place among persons so nearly 
connected. Till they meet, the absent son, the absent brother, are 
frequently the favourite son, the favourite brother. They have never 
offended, or, if they have, it is so long ago, that the offence is forgotten, 
as some childish trick not worth the remembering. Every account they 
have heard of one another, if conveyed by people of any tolerable good 
nature, has been, in the highest degree, flattering and favourable. The 
absent son, the absent brother, is not like other ordinary sons and 
brothers ; but an all-perfect son, an all-perfect brother ; and the most 
romantic hopes are entertained of the happiness to be enjoyed in the 
friendship and conversation of such persons. When they meet, it is 


often with so strong a disposition to conceive that habitual sympathy 
which constitutes the family affection, that they are very apt to fancy 
they have actually conceived it, and to behave to one another as if they 
had. Time and experience, however, I am afraid, too frequently unde- 
ceive them. Upon a more familiar acquaintance, they frequently dis- 
cover in one another habits, humours, and inclinations, different from 
what they expected, to which, from want .of habitual sympathy, from 
want of the real principle and foundation of what is properly called 
family-affection, they cannot now easily accommodate themselves. 
They have never lived in the situation which almost necessarily forces 
tl^^t easy accommodation, and though they may now be sincerely 
desirous to assume it, they have really become incapable of doing so. 
Their familiar conversation and intercourse soon become less pleasing 
to them, and, upon that account, less frequent They may continue to 
live with one another in the mutual exchange of all essential good 
offices, and with every other external appearance of decent regard 
But that cordial satisfaction, that delicious sympathy, that confidential 
openness and ease, which naturally take place in vthe conversation of 
those who have lived long and familiarly with one another, it seldom 
happens that they can completely enjoy. 

It is only, however, with the dutiful and the virtuous, that the gene- 
ral rule has even this slender authority. With the dissipated, the 
profligate, and the vain, it is entirely disregarded. They are so far 
from respecting it, that they seldom talk of it but with the most inde- 
cent derision ; and an early and long separation of this kind never 
fails to estrange them most completely from one another. With such 
persons, respect for the general rule can at best produce only a cold 
and affected civility (a very slender semblance of real regard) ; and 
even this, the slightest offence, the smallest opposition of interest, 
commonly puts an end to altogether. 

The education of boys at distant great schools, of young men at dis- 
tant colleges, of young ladies in distant nunneries and boarding- 
schools, seems, in the higher ranks of life, to have hurt most essen- 
tially the domestic morals, and consequently the domestic happiness, 
both of France and England. Do you wish to educs^te your children 
to be dutiful, to their parents, to be kind and affectionate to their 
brothers and sisters ? put them under the necessity of being dutiful 
children, of being kind and affectionate brothers and sisters : educate 
them in your own house. From their parent's house, they may, wi^ 
propriety and advantage, go out every day to attend public schocjds : 
but let their dwelling be always at home. Respect for you must always 
impose a very useful restraint upon their conduct; and respect for 
them may frequently impose no useless restraint upon your own. 
Surely no acquirement, which can possibly be derived from what is 
called a public education, can make any sort of compensation for what 


is almost certainly and necessarily lost by it Domestic eduction is 
the institution of nature ; public education, the contrivance of man. 
It is surely unne<?essary to say, which is likely to be the wisest 

In some tragedies and romances, we meet with many beautiful and 
interesting scenes, founded upon what is called, the force of blood, or 
upon the wonderful affection which near relations are supposed to con- 
ceive for one another, even before they know that they have any such 
connection. This force of blood, however, I am afraid, exists no where 
but in tragedies and romances. Even in tragedies and romances, it is 
never supposed to take place between any relations, but those who are 
naturally bred up in the same house ; between parents and children, 
between brothers and sisters. To imagine any such mysterious affec- 
tion between cousins, or even between aunts or uncles, and nephews or 
nieces, would be too ridiculous. 

In pastoral countries, and in all countries where the authority of law 
is not alone sufficient to give perfect security to every member of the 
state, all the different branches of the same family conmionly choose 
to live in the neighbourhood of one another. Their association is fre- 
quently necessary for their conmion defence. They are all, from the 
highest to the lowest, of more or less importance to one another. 
Their concord strengthens their necessary association: their discord 
always weakens, and might destroy it They have more intercourse 
with one another, than with the members of any other tribe. The 
remotest members of the same tribe claim some connection with one 
another ; and, where all other circumstances are equal, expect to be 
treated with more distinguished attention than is due to those who 
have no such pretensions. It is not many years ago that, in the High- 
lands of Scotland, the chieftain used to consider the poorest man of his 
clan, as his cousin and relation. The same extensive regard to kindred 
is said to take place among the Tartars, the Arabs, the Turkomans, 
and, I beUeve, among all other nations who are nearly in the same 
state of society in which the Scots Highlanders were about the begin- 
ning of the present century. 

In commercial countries, where the authority of law is always per- 
fectly sufficient to protect the meanest man in the state, the descend- 
ants of the same family, having no such motive for keeping together, 
naturally separate and disperse, as interest or inclination may direct 
They soon cease to be of importance to one another ; and, in a few 
generations, not only lose all care about one another, but all remembrance 
of their common origin, and of the connection which took place among 
their ancestors. Regard for remote relations becomes, in every coun- 
try, less and less, according as this state of civilization has been longer 
and more completely established. It has been longer and more com- 
pletely established in England than in Scotland ; and remote relations 
are, accordingly, more considered in the latter country than in the 


formeqi though, in this respect, the difference between the two 
countries is growing less and less every day. Great lords, indeed, 
are, in every country, proud of remembering and acknowledging their 
connectipn with one another, however remote. The remembrance of 
such illustrious relations flatters not a little the family pride of them 
all; and it is neither from affection, nor from any thing which resembles 
affection, but from the most frivolous and childish of all vanities, that 
this remembrance is so carefully kept up. Should some more humble, 
though, perhaps, much nearer kinsman, presume to put such great men 
in mind of his relation to their family, they seldom fail to tell him that 
they are bad genealogists, and miserably ill-informed concerning their 
own family history. It is not in that order that we are to expect any 
extraordinary extension of, what is called, natural affection. 

I consider what is called natural affection as more the effect of the 
moral than of the supposed physical connection between the parent 
and the child. A jealous husband, indeed, notwithstanding the moral 
connection, notwithstanding the child's having been educated in his 
own house, often regards, with hatred and aversion, that unhappy child 
which he supposes to be the offspring of his wife's infidelity. It is the 
lasting monument of a most disagreeable adventure ; of his own dis- 
honour, and of the disgrace of his family. 

Among well-disposed people, the necessity or conveniency of mutual 
accommodation, very frequently produces a friendship not unlike that 
which takes place among those who are bom to live in the same 
family. Colleagues in office, partners in trade, call one another bro- 
thers ; and frequently feel towards one another as if they really were 
so. Their good agreement is an advantage to all ; and, if they are 
tolerably reasonable people, they are naturally disposed to agree. We 
expect that they should do so ; and their disagreement is a sort of a 
small scandal. The Romans expressed this sort of attachment by the 
word necessitudo, which, from the etymology, seems to denote that it 
was imposed by the necessity of the situation. 

Even the trifling circumstance of living in the same neighbourhood, 
has some effect of the same kind. We respect the face of a man whom 
we see every day, provided he has never offended us. Neighbours can 
be very convenient, and they can be very troublesome, to one another. 
If they are good sort of people, they are naturally disposed to agree. 
We expect their good agreement ; and to be a bad neighbour is a very 
bad character. There are certain small good offices, accordingly, which 
are universally allowed to be due to a neighbour in preference to any 
other person who has no such connection. 

This natural disposition to accommodate and to assimilate, as much 
as we can, our own sentiments, principles, and feelings, to those which 
we see fixed and rooted in the persons whom we are obliged to live and 
converse a great deal with, is the cause of the contagious effects of both 

smith's theory of moral senhments. 199 

good and bad company. The man who associates chiefly with the 
wise and the virtuous, though he may not himself become either wise 
or virtuous, cannot help conceiving a certain respect at least for wisdom 
and virtue ; and the man who associates chiefly with the profligate and 
the dissolute, though he may not himself become profligate and disso- 
lute, must soon lose, at least, all his original abhorrence of profligacy 
and dissolution of manners. The similarity of family characters, which 
we so frequently see transmitted through several successive generations, 
may, perhaps, be partly owing to this disposition to assimilate ourselves 
to those whom we are obliged to live and converse a great deal with. 
The family character, however, like the family countenance, seems to 
be owing, not altogether to the moral, but partly too to the physical 
connection. The family countenance is certainly altogether owing to 
the latter. 

But of all attachments to an individual, that which' is founded alto- 
gether upon esteem and approbation of his good conduct and behaviour, 
confirmed by much experience and long acquaintance, is, by far, the 
most respectable. Such friendships, arising not from a constrained 
sympathy, not from a sympathy which has been assumed and rendered 
habitual for the sake of convenience and accommodation ; but from a 
natural sympathy, from an involuntary feeling that the persons to whom 
we attach ourselves are the natural and proper objects of esteem and 
approbation ; can exist only among men of virtue. Men of virtue only 
can feel that entire confidence in the conduct and behaviour of one 
anotiier, which can, at all times, assure them that they can never either 
offend or be offended by one another. Vice is always capricious : 
virtue only is regular and orderly. The attachment which is founded 
upon the love of virtue, as it is certainly, of all attachments, the most 
virtuous ; so it is likewise the happiest, as well as the most permanent 
and secure. Such friendships need not be confined to a single person, 
but may safely embrace aU the wise and virtuous, with whom we have 
been long and intimately acquainted, and upon whose wisdom and 
virtue we can, upon that account, entirely depend. They who would 
confine friendship to two persons, seem to confound the wise security of 
friendship with the jealousy and folly of love. The hasty, fond, and 
foolish intimacies of young people, founded, commonly, upon some 
slight similarity ofcharacter, altogether unconnected with good conduct, 
upon a taste, perhaps, for the same studies, the same amusements, the 
same diversions, or upon their agreement in some singular principle or 
opinion, not commonly adopted ; those intimacies which a freak be- 
gins, and which a freak puts an end to, how agreeable soever they may 
appear while they last, can by no means deserve the sacred and the 
venerable name of friendship. 

Of all the persons, however, whom nature points out for our peculiar 
beneficence, there are iione to whom it seems more properly directed 


than to those whose beneficence we have ourselves ahready experienced. 
Nature, which fonned men for that mutual kindness so necessary for 
their happiness, renders every man the pecuhar object of kindness to 
the persons to whom*he himself has been kind. Though their gratitude 
should not always correspond to his beneficence, yet the sense of his 
merit, the sympathetic gratitude of the impartial spectator, will always 
correspond to it The general indignation of other people against the 
baseness of their ingratitude will even, sometimes, increase the general 
sense of his merit No benevolent man ever lost altogether the fruits of 
his benevolence. If he does not always gather them from the persons 
from whom he ought to have gathered them, he seldom fails^ to gather 
them, and with a tenfold increase, from other people. Kindness is the 
parent of kindness ; and if to be beloved by our brethren be the gpreat 
object of our ambition, the surest way of obtaining it is, by om: con- 
duct to show that we really love them. 

After the persons who are recommended to our beneficence, either 
their connection with ourselves, by their personal qualities, or by their 
past services, come those who are pointed out, not indeed to, what is 
called, our friendship, but to our benevolent attention and good offices ; 
those who are distinguished by their extraordinary situation ; the 
greatly fortunate and the greatly unfortunate, the rich and the powerful, 
the poor and the wretched. The distinction of ranks, the peace and 
order of society, are, in a great measure, founded upon the respect 
which we naturally conceive for the former. The relief and consola- 
tion of human mi^sery depend altogether upon our compassion for the 
latter. The peace and order of society, is of more importance than 
even the relief of the miserable. Our respect for the great, accordingly, 
is most apt to offend by its excess ; our fellow-feeling for the miserable, 
by its defect Moralists exhort us to charity and compassion. They 
warn us against the fascination of greatness. This fascination, indeed, 
is so powerful, that the rich and the great are too often preferred to the 
wise and the virtuous. Nature has wisely judged that the distinction of 
ranks, the peace and order of society, would rest more securely upon 
the plain and palpable difference of birth and fortune, than upon the 
invisible and often imcertain difference of wisdom and virtue. The 
undistinguishing eyes of the great mob of mankind can well enough 
perceive the former : it is with difficulty that the nice discernment of 
the wise and the virtuous can sometimes distinguish the latter. In the 
order of all those recommendations to virtue, the benevolent wisdom 
of nature is equally evident. 

It may, perhaps, be imnecessary to observe, that the combination of 
two or more of those exciting causes of kindness, increases the kind- 
ness. The favour and partiality which, when there is no envy in the 
case, we naturally bear to greatness, are much increased when it is 
joined with wisdom and virtue. If, notwithstanding that wisdom and 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 201 

virtue, the great man should fall into those misfortune^, those dangers 
and distresses, to which the most exalted stations are often the most 
exposed, we are much mor^ deeply interested in his fortune than we 
should be in that of a person equally virtuous, but in a more humble 
situation* The most interesting subjects of tragedies and romances 
are the misfortunes of virtuous and magnanimous kings and princes. 
If, by the wisdom and manhood of their exertions, they should extri- 
cate themselves from those misfortimes, and recover completely their 
former superiority and security, we cannot help viewing them with the 
most enthusiastic and even extravagant admiration. The grief which 
we felt for their distress, the joy which we feel for their prosperity, seem 
to combine together in enhancing that partial admiration which we 
naturally conceive both for the station and the character. 

When those different beneficent affections happen to draw different 
ways, to determine by any precise rules in what cases we ought to com- 
ply with the one, and in what with the other, is, perhaps, altogether im- 
possible. In what cases friendship ought to yield to gratitude, or 
gratitude to friendship ; in what cases the strongest of all natural affec- 
tions ought to yield to a regard for the safety of those superiors upon 
whose safety often depends that of the whole society ; and in what 
cases natural affection may, without impropriety, prevail over that 
regard ; must be left altogether to the decision of the man within the 
breast, the supposed impartial spectator, the great judge and arbiter of 
our conduct If we place ourselves completely in his situation, if we 
really view ourselves with his eyes, and as he views us, and listen with, 
diligent and reverential attention to what he suggests to us, his voice 
will never deceive us. We shall stand in need- of no casuistic rules to 
direct our conduct These it is often impossible to accommodate to 
all the different shades and gradations of circumstance, character, and 
situation, to differences and distinctions which, though not impercepti- 
ble, are, by their nicety and delicacy, often altogether undefinable. In 
that beautiful tragedy of Voltaire, the Orphan of China, while we ad- 
mire the magnanimity of Zamti, who is willing to sacrifice the life of 
his own child, in order to preserve that of the only feeble remnant of 
bis ancient sovereigns and masters ; we not only pardon, but love the 
maternal tenderness of Idame, who, at the risk of discovering the im- 
portant secret of her husband, reclaims her infant from the cruel hands 
of the Tartars, into which it had been delivered. 

Chap. II. — Of the Order in which Societies are by Nature recommended 
to our Beneficence^ 

Xhe same principles that direct the order in which individuals are 
recommended to our beneficence, direct that likewise in which societies 



are r^ommended to it Those to whicti it is, ot may be of most 
importance, are first and principally recommended to it 

The state or sovere^ty in which we have been bom and educated, 
and under the protection of which we continue to live, is, in ordinary 
cases, the greatest society upon whose happiness or misery- our good 
or bad conduct can have much mfluence. It is accordingly, by nature, 
most strongly recommended to us. Not only we ourselves, but all the 
objects of our kindest aiffections, our childrcfh, our parents, our rela- 
tions, Our friends, our benefactors, all those whom we naturally love 
Mid revere the most, are commonly comprehended within it ; and their 
prosperity and safety depend in some measure upon its prosperity and 
safety. It is by nature, therefore, endeared to us, not only by all our 
selfish, but by all our private benevolent affectiosis. Upon account of 
our own connexion with it, its prosperity and glory seem to reflect some 
sort of honour upon oursdves. When we compare it with other socie- 
ties of the same kind, we are proud of its superiority, and mortified in 
some degree if it appears hi any respect below them. All the illustri- 
ous characters which it has produced in former times (for against those 
of our own times enVy may sometimes prejudice us a little), its warriors 
its statesmen, its poets, its philosophers, and men of letters of all kinds ; 
we are disposed to view with the most partial admiration, and to rank 
them (sometimes most uitjustly) above those of all other nations. The 
patriot who lays down his life for the sali^, or even for the vain-glory 
of this society, appears to act with the most exact propriety. He 
appears to view himself in, the light in which the impartial spectator 
naturally and necessarily views him, as but one of the multitude, in the 
eye of that equitable judge, of no more consequence than any other in 
it, but bound at all times to sacrifice and devote himself to die safety, 
to the service, and even to the glory of the greater number. But 
though this sacrifice appears to be perfectly just and proper, we know 
how difficult it is to make it^ and how few people are capable of making it 
His conduct, therefore, excites not only our entire approbation, but our 
highest wonder and admiration, and seems to merit all the applause 
which can be due to the most heroic virtue. The traitor, on die con- 
trary, who, in some peculiar situation, fancies he can promote his ovm 
little interest by betraying to the public enemy that of his native 
country ; who, regardless of the judgment of the man within the 
breast, prefers himself,, in this respect so shamefully and so basely, to 
all those with whom he has any connexion ; appears to be of all villains 
the most detestable. 

The love of our own nation often disposes us to view, with the most 
malignant jealousy and envy, the prosperity and aggrandisement of 
any other neighbouring nation. Independent and neighbouring nations, 
having no common superior to decide their disputes, all live in con- 
tinual dread and suspicion of one another. Each sovereign, expecting 

smith's theory or moral sentiments. 203 

iitde justice from his neighbours, is disposed to treat diem with as little 
as he expects from them. The regard for the laws of nations, or for 
those rules which independent states profess or pretend to think them- 
selves bound to observe in their dealings with one another, is often very 
little more than mere pretenbe and profession. From the smallest 
interest, upon the slightest provocation, we see those rules every day, 
either evaded or directly violated without shame or remorse. Each 
nation foresees, or imagines it foresees, its own subjugation in the 
increasing power and aggrandisement of any of its neighbours ; and 
the mean principle of national prejudice is often founded upon the 
noble one of the love of our own country. The sentence with which 
the elder Cato is said to have concluded every speech which he made 
in the senate, whatever might be the subject, * // is my opinion like- 
^wise that Carthage ought to be destroyed^ ^z!& the natural expres-. 
sion of the savage patriotism of a strong but coarse mind, enraged 
almost to madness against a foreign nation from which his own had 
suffered so much. The more humane sentence with which Scipio 
Nasica is said to have concluded all his speeches, '// is my opinion like- 
* wise that Carthage ought not to be destroy ed^^ was the Hberal expres- 
sion of a more enlarged and enlightened mind, who felt no aversion to 
the prosperity even of an old enemy, when reduced to a state which 
could no longer be formidable to Rome. France and England may 
each of them have some reason to dread the increase of the naval and 
military power of the other ; but for either of them to envy the internal 
happiness and prosperity of the other, the cultivation of its lands, the 
advancement of its manufactures, the increase of its commerce, the 
security and number of its ports and harbours, its proEciency in all the 
liberal arts and sciences, is surely beneath the dignity of two such 
great nations. These are all real improvements of the world we live 
in. Mankind are benefited, human nature is ennobled by them. In 
such improvements each nation ought, not only to endeavour itself to 
excel, but from the love of mankind, to promote, instead of olDstructing 
the excellence of its neighbours. These are all proper objects of 
national emulation, not of national prejudice or envy. 

The love of our own country seems not to be derived from the love 
of mankind. The former sentiment is altogether independent of the 
latter, and seems sometimes even to dispose us to act inconsistently 
with it. France may contain, perhaps, near three times the nimiber of 
inhabitants which Great Britain contains. In the great society of man- 
kind, therefore, the prosperity of France should appear to be an object 
of much greater importance than that of Great Britain. The British 
subject, however, who, upon that account, should prefer upon all 
occasions the prosperity of the former to that of the latter country, 
would not be thought a good citizen of Great Britain. We do not lov6 
our country merely as a part of the great society of mankind : we love 

14 • 


it for its own sake, and independently of any such consideration. 
That wisdom which contrived itie system of human affections, as well 
as that of every other part of nature, seems to have judged that the 
interest of the great society of mankind would be best promoted by 
directing the principal attention of each individual to that particular 
portion of it, which was most within the sphere both of his abilities and 
of his understanding. 

National prejudices and hatreds seldom extend beyond neighbouring 
nations. We very weakly and foolishly, perhaps, call the French our 
/ natural enemies ; and they perhaps, as weakly and foolishly, consider 
us in the same manner. Neither they nor we bear any sort of envy to 
the prosperity of China or Japan. It very rarely happens, however, 
that our good-will towards such distant countries can be exerted with 
much effect 

The most extensive public benevolence which can commonly be ex- 
erted with any considerable effect, is that of the statesmen, who project 
and form alliances among neighbouring or not very distant nations, for 
the preservation either of, what is called, the balance of power, or of 
the general peace and tranquillity of the states within the circle of 
their negotiations. The statesmen, however, who plan and execute 
such treaties, have seldom anything in view, but the interest of their 
respective countries. Sometimes, indeed, their views are more exten- 
sive. The Count d'Avaux, the plenipotentiary of France, at the treaty 
of Munster, would have been willing to sacrifice his life (according to 
the Cardinal de Retz, a man not over-credulous in the virtue of other 
people) in order to have restored, by that treaty, the general tranquillity 
of Europe. King William seems to have had a zeal for the Ubertyand 
independency of the greater part of the sovereign states of Europe; 
which, perhaps, might be a good deal stimulated by his particular aver- 
sion to France, the state from which, during his time, that liberty and 
independency were principally in danger. Some share of the same spirit 
seems to have descended to the first ministry of Queen Anne. 

Every independent state is divided into many different orders and 
societies, each of which has its own particular powers, privileges, and 
immunities. Every individual is naturally more attached to his own 
particular order or society, than to any other. His own interest, his 
own vanity, the interest and vanity of many of his /riends and com- 
panions, are commonly a good deal connected with it. He is ambitious 
to extend its privileges and immunities. He is zealous to defend them 
against the encroachments of every other order of society. 

Upon the manner in which any state is divided into the different 
orders and societies which compose it, and upon the particular distri- 
bution which has been made of their respective powers, privileges, and 
immunities, depends, what is called, the constitution of that particular 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 205 

Upon the ability of each particular order or society to maintain its 
own powers, privileges, and immunities, against the encroachments of 
every other, depends the stability of that particular constitution. That 
particular constitution is necessarily more or less altered, whenever 
any of its subordinate parts is either raised above or depressed below 
whatever had been its former rank and condition. 

All those different orders and societies are dependent upon the state 
to which they owe their security and protection. That they are all 
subordinate to that state, and established only in subserviency to its 
prosperity and preservation, is a truth acknowledged by the most par- 
tial member of every one of them. It may often, however, be hard to 
convince him that the prosperity and preservation of the state requires 
any diminution of the powers, privileges, and immunities of his own 
particular order of society. This partiality, though it may sometimes 
be unjust, may not, upon that account, be useless. It checks the spirit 
of innovation. It tends to preserve whatever is the established balance 
among the different orders and societies into which the state is divided ; 
and while it sometimes appears to obstruct some alterations of govern- 
ment which may be fashionable and popular at the time, it contributes 
in reality to the stability and permanency of the whole system. 

The love of our country seems, in ordinary cases, to involve in it two 
different principles ; first, a certain respect and reverence for that con- 
stitution or form of government which is actually established ; and 
secondly, an earnest desire to render the condition of our fellow- 
citizens as safe, respectable, and happy as we can. He is not a citizen 
who is not disposed to respect the laws and to obey the civil magis- 
trate ; and he is certainly not a good citizen who does not wish to pro- 
mote, by every means in his power, the welfare of the whole society of 
his fellow citizens. 

In peaceable and quiet times, those two principles generally coin- 
cide and lead to the same conduct The support of the established 
government seems evidently the best expedient for maintaining the 
safe, respectable, and happy situation of our fellow-citizens ; when we 
see that this government actually maintains them in that situation. 
But in times of public discontent, faction, and disorder, those two dif- 
ferent principles may draw different ways, and even a wise man may 
be disposed to think some alteration necessary in that constitution or 
form of government, which, in its actual condition, appears plainly 
unable to maintain the public tranquillity. In such cases, however, it 
often requires, perhaps, the highest effort of political wisdom to deter- 
mine when a real patriot ought to support and endeavour to re-establish 
the authority of the old system, and when we ought to give way to the 
more daring, but often dangerous, spirit of innovation 

Foreign war and civil faction are the two situations which afford the 
most splendid opportunities for the display of public spirit. The hero 


who serves liis country successfully in foreign war gratifies the wishes 
of the whole nation, and is, upon that account, the object of universal 
gratitude and admiration. In times of civil discord, the leaders of the 
contending parties, though they may be admired by one half of their 
fellow-citizens, are commonly execrated by the other. Their characters 
and the merit of their respective services appear conunonly more 
doubtful The glory which is acquired by foreign war is, upon this 
account, almost always more pure and more splendid than that which 
can be acquired in civil faction. 

The leader of the successful party, however, if he has authority 
enough to prevail upon his own friends to act with proper temper and 
moderation (which he frequently has not), may sometimes render to his 
country a service much more essential and important than the greatest 
victories and the most extensive conquests. He may re-establish and 
improve the constitution, and from the very doubtful and ambi- 
guous character of the leader of a party, he may assume the greatest 
and noblest of all characters, that of the reformer and legislator of a 
great state ; and, by the wisdom of his institutions, secure the internal 
tranquillity, and happiness of his feUow-citizens for many succeeding 

^Amidst the turbulence and disorder of faction, a certain spirit of sys- 
tem is apt to mix itself with that public spirit which is founded upon 
the love of humanity, upon a real fellow-feeling with the inconveniencies 
and distresses to which some of our fellow-citizens may be exposed. 
This spirit of system commonly takes the direction of that more gentle 
public spirit, always animates it, and often inflames it even to the 
madness of fanaticism. The leaders of the discontented party seldom 
fail to hold out some plausible plan of reformation which, they pretend, 
will not only remove the inconveniencies and relieve the distresses im- 
mediately complained of, but will prevent, in all time coming, any 
return of the like inconveniencies and distresses. They often propose, 
upon this account, to new model the constitution, and to alter, in some 
of its most essential parts, that system of government under which the 
subjects of a great empire have enjoyed, perhaps, peace, security, and 
even glory, during the course of several centuries together. The great 
body of the party are commonly intoxicated with the imaginary beauty 
of this ideal system, of which diey have no experience, but which has 
been represented to them in all the most dazzling colours in which the 
eloquence of their leaders could paint it. Those leaders themselves, 
though they originally may have meant nothing but their own aggran- 
disement, become many of them in time the dupes of their own sophis- 
try, and are as eager for this great reformation as the weakest and 
most foolish of their followers. Even though the leaders should have 
preserved their own heads, as indeed they commonly do, free from this 
fanaticism, yet they dare not always disappoint the expectation of their 

smith's THfiORY OF BCORAI^ SENTIM^TS. ao? 

followers ; but are often oblig^ed, thougk contrary to their principle and 
their conscience, to act as if they were under the conunon delusion. 
The violence of the party, refusing all paUiatives, all temperaments, all 
reasonable accommodations, by requiring too much frequently obtains 
nothing ; and those inconveniencies and distresses which, with a little 
moderation might in a great measure have been removed and relieved^ 
are left altogether without the hope of a remedy. 

The man whose public. spirit is prompted altogether by humanity 
and benevolence, wiU respect the established powers and privileges 
even of individuals, and still more those of the great orders and 
societies, into which the state is divided. Though he should consider 
some of them as in some measure abusive, he wUl content himself with 
moderating what he often cannot annihilate without great violence. 
When he cannot conquer the rooted prejudices of the people by reason 
and persuasion, he will not attempt to subdue them by force ; but will 
religiously observe what, by Cicero, is justly called the divine maxim 
of Plato, never to use violence to his country no more than to his 
parents. He will accommodate, as well .as he can, his public aiTange- 
ments to the confirmed habits and prejudices of the people ; and will 
remedy, as well as he can, the inconveniendes which may flow from 
the want of those regulations which the people are averse to submit to. 
When he cannot establish the right, he will not disdain to ameliorate 
the wrong ; but like Solon, when he cannot establish the best system 
of laws, he will try to establish the best that the people can bear. 

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own 
conceit : and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his 
own ideal plan of government, that he cannot su£fer the smallest devia- 
tion from any part of it He goes on to establish it completely and in 
all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the 
strong prejudices which may oppose it He seems to imagine that he 
can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease 
as the hand arranges the difiereQt pieces upon a chess-board. He does 
not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other prin- 
ciple of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but 
that» in the great chess-board of himian society, every single piece has 
a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which 
the legislature might choose to impress upon it If those two principles 
coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will 
go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and 
successful If they are opposite or different, the game will go on 
miserably, and human society must be at all tunes in the highest 
de^ee of disorder. 

Some general, and even systematical, idea of the perfection of policy 
and law, may no doubt be necessary for directing the views of the 
statesman. But to insist upon establishing, s^nd upon establishing all 


at once, and in spite of aJl opposition, every thing which that idea may 
seem to require, must often be the highest degree of arrogance. It is 
to erect his own judgment into the supreme standard of right and 
wrong. It is to fancy himself the only wise and worthy man in the 
commonwealth, and that his fellow-citizens should accommodate them- 
selves to him and not he to them* It is upon this account, that of all 
political speculators, sovereign princes are by far the most dangerous. 
This arrogance is perfectly familiar to them. They entertain no doubt 
of the immense superiority of their own judgment. When such im- 
perial and royal reformers, therefore, condescend to contemplate the 
constitution of the country which is conunitted to their government, 
they seldom see any thing so wrong in it as the obstructions which it 
may sometimes oppose to the execution of their own will They hold 
in contempt the divine maxim of Plato, and consider the state as made 
for themselves, not themselves for the state. The great object of their 
reformation, therefore, is to remove those obstructions ; to reduce the 
authority of the nobility ; to take away the privileges of cities and pro* 
vinces, and to render both the greatest individuals and the greatest 
orders of the state, as incapable of opposing their commands, as the 
weakest and most insignificant 

Chap. III. — Of Universal Benevolence, 
Though our effectual good offices can very seldom be extended to any 
wider society than that of our country ; our good-will is circumscribed 
by no boundary, but may embrace the immensity of the universe. We 
cannot form the idea of any innocent and sensible being, whose happi- 
ness we should not desire, or to whose misery, when distinctly brought 
home to the imagination, we should not have some degree of aversion. 
The idea of a mischievous, though sensible, being, indeed, naturally 
provokes our hatred : but the ill-will which, in this case, we biear to it, 
is really the effect of our universal benevolence. It is the effect of the 
sympathy which we feel with the misery and resentment of those other 
innocent and sensible beings, whose happiness is disturbed by its 

This universal benevolence, how noble and generous soever, can be 
the source of no solid happiness to any man who is not thoroughly con- 
vinced that all the inhabitants of the universe, the meanest as well as 
the greatest, are under the immediate care and protection of that great, 
benevolent, and all- wise Being, who directs all the movements of nature; 
and who is determined, by his own unalterable perfections, to maintain 
in it, at all times, the greatest possible quantity of happiness. To this 
universal benevolence, on the contrary, the very suspicion of a father- 
less world, must be the most melancholy of aU reflections ; from the 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 209 

thought that all the unknown regions of infinite and incomprehensible 
cpace may be filled ^th nothing but endless misery and wretchedness* 
All the splendour of the highest prosperity can never enlighten the 
gloom with which so dreadful an idea must necessarily overshadow the 
imagination ; nor, in a wise and virtuous man, can all the sorrow of the 
most afflicting adversity ever dry up the joy which necessarily springs 
from the habitual and thorough conviction of the truth of the contrary 

The wise and virtuous man is at all times willing that his own private 
interest should be sacrificed to the public interest of his own particular 
order or society. He is at all times willing, too, that the interest of this 
order or society should be sacrificed to the greater interest of the state 
or sovereignty, of which it is only a subordinate part He should, 
therefore, be equally willing that all those inferior interests should be 
sacrificed to the greater interest of the universe, to the interest of that 
great society of all sensible and intelligent beings, of which God him- 
self is the immediate administrator and director. If he is deeply 
impressed with the habitual and thorough conviction that this bene- 
volent and all-wise Being can admit into the system of his government, 
no partial evil which is not necessary for the universal good, he must 
consider all the misfortunes which may befal himself, his friends, his 
society, or his country, as necessary for the prosperity of the universe, 
and therefore as what he ought, not only to submit to with resignation, 
but as what he himself, if he had known all the connexions and depend- 
encies of things, ought sincerely and devoutly to have wished for. 

Nor does this magnanimous resignation to .the will of the great 
Director of the universe, seem in any respect beyond the reach of 
human nature. Good soldiers, who both love and trust their general, 
frequently march with more gaiety and alacrity to the forlorn station, 
from which they never expect to return, than they would to one where 
there was neither difficulty nor danger. In marching to the latter, they 
could feel no other sentiment than that of the dulness of ordinary duty; 
in marching to the former, they feel that they are making the noblest 
exertion which it is possible for man to make. They know that their 
general would not have ordered them upon this station, had it not been 
necessary for the safety of the army, for the success of the war. They 
cheerfully sacrifice their own little systems to the prosperity of a greater 
system. They take an affectionate leave of their comrades, to whom 
they wish all happiness and success ; and march out, not only with , 
submissive obedience, but often with shouts of the most joyful exulta- 
tion, to that fatal, but splendid and honourable station to which they 
are appointed. No conductor of an army can deserve more unlimited 
trust, more ardent and zealous affection, than the great Conductor of 
the universe. In the greatest public as well as private disasters, a wise 
man ought to consider that he himself, his friends and countrymen, 


have only been ordered upon the forlorn station of the universe j that 
had it not been necessary for the good of the whole, they would not 
have been so ordered; and that it is their duty, not only with humble 
resignation to submit to this allotment, but to endeavour to embrace it 
with alacrity and joy. A wise man should surely be capable of doing 
what a good soldier holds himself at all times in readiness to da 

The idea of that divine Being; whose benevolence and wisdom have, 
from all eternity, contrived and conducted the immense machine of the 
universe, so as at all times to produce the greatest possible quantity of 
happiness, is certainly of all the objects of human contemplation by far 
the most sublime. Every other thought i^cessarily appears mean in 
the comparison. The man whom we believe to be principally occupied 
in this sublime contemplation, seldi^n fails to be the object of our 
highest veneration ; and though his life should be altogether contempla- 
tive, we often regard him with a sort of religious respect much superior 
to that with which we look upon the most active and useful ^rvant of 
the conunonwealth. The Meditations of Marcus Antoninus, which 
turn principally upon this subject, have contributed more, perhaps, to 
the general admiration of his character, than all the different trans- 
actions of his jtist, merciful, and beneficent reign. 

The administration of the great system of the universe, however, the 
care of the universal happiness of all rational and sensible beings, is 
the business of God and not of man. To man is allotted a much 
humbler department, but one much more suitable to the weakness of 
his powers, and to the narrowness of his cwnprehension ; the care of 
his own happiness, of that of his family, his friends, his country: that 
he is occupied in contemplating the more sublime, can never be an 
excuse for his neglecting the more humble department ; and he must 
not expose himself to the charge which Avidius Cassius is said to have 
brought, perhaps unjustly, against Marcus Antoninus ; that while he 
employed himself in philosophical speculations, and contemplated the 
prosperity of the universe, he neglected that of the Roman empire. 
The most sublime speculation of the contemplative philosopher can 
scarce compensate the neglect of the smcdlest active duty. 

Sec. III.— Of Self-Command. 
The man who acts according to the rules of perfect prudence, of strict 
, justice, and of proper benevolence, may be said to be perfectly virtuous 
But the riiost perfect knowledge of those rules wiU not alone enable 
him to act in this manner : his own passions are very apt to mislead 
him : sometimes to drive him and sometimes to seduce him to violate 
all the rules which he himself, in all his sober and cool hours, approves 
of. The most perfect knowledge, if it is not supported by the most 
perfect self-conmiand, will not always enable him to do his duty. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 211 

Some of the best of the ancient moralists seem to have considered 
those passions as divided into two different classes : first, into those 
which it requires a considerable exertion of self-command to restrain 
even for a single moment ; and secondly, into those which it is easy to 
restrain for a single moment, or even for a short period of time ; but 
which, by their continual and almost incessant solicitations, are, in the 
course d a life, very apt to mislead into great deviations. 

Fear and anger, together with some other passions which are mixed 
or connected with them, constitute the first class. The love of ease, of 
pleasure, of applause, and of many other selfish gratifications, consti- 
tute the second. Extravagant fear and fiirioas anger, it is often diffi- 
cult to restrain even for a single moment The love of ease, of plea- 
sure, of applause, and other selfish gratifications, it is always easy to 
restrain for a single moment, or even for a short period of time ; buty 
by their continual solicitations, they often mislead us into many weak- 
nesses which we have afterwards much reason to be ashamed oL 
The former set of passions may often be said to drive, the latter to 
seduce us, from our duty. The conmiand of the former was, by the 
ancient moralists above alluded to, denominated fortitude, manhood, 
and strength of mind ; that of the latter, temperance, decency, modesty, 
and moderation. 

The command of each of those two sets of passions, independent of 
the beauty which it derives from its utility ; from its enabling us upon 
all occasions to act according to the dictates of prudence, of justice, 
and of proper benevolence ; has a beauty of its own, and seems to 
deserve for its own sake a certain degree of esteem and admiration. 
In the one case, the strength and greatness of the exertion excites some 
degree of that esteem and admiration. In the other, the uniformity, 
the equality and unremitting steadiness of that exertion. 

The man who, in danger, in torture, upon the approach of death, 
preserves his tranquillity imaltered, and suffers no word, no gesture to 
escape him which does not perfectly accord with the feelings of the 
most indifferent spectator, necessarily commands a very high degree of 
admiration. If he suffers in the cause of liberty and justice, for the 
sake of humanity and the love of his country, the most tender compas- 
sion for his sufferings, the strongest indignation against the injustice of 
his persecutors, the warmest sympathetic gratitude for his beneficent 
intentions, the highest sense of his merit, all join and mix themselves 
with the admiration of his magnanimity, and often inflame that senti- 
ment into the most enthusiastic and rapturous veneration. The heroes 
of ancient and modem history, who are remembered with the most 
peculiar favour and affection, are many of • them those who, in the 
cause of truth, liberty, and justice, have perished upon the scaffold, 
and who behaved there with that ease and dignity which became them. 
Had the enemies of Socrates suffered him to die quietly in his bed, the 


glory even of that great philosopher might possibly never have acquired 
that dazzling splendour in which it has been beheld in all succeeding 
ages. In the English history, when we look over the illustrious heads 
which have been engraven by Vertue and Howbraken, there is scarce 
any body, I imagine, who does not feel that the axe, the emblem of 
having been beheaded, which is engraved under some of the most illus- 
trious of them, under those of the Sir Thomas Mores, of the Ra- 
leighs, the Russels, the Sydneys, &c., sheds a real dignity and depth of 
interest over the characters to which it is aflSxed, much superior to 
what they can derive from all the futile ornaments of heraldry, with 
which they are sometimes accompanied. 

Nor does this magnanimity give lustre only to the characters of inno- 
cent and virtuous men. It draws some degree of favourable regard 
even upon those of the greatest criminals ; and when a robber or 
highwayman is brought to the scaffold, and behaves there with decency 
and firmness, though we perfectly approve of his punishment, we often 
cannot help regretting that a man who possessed such great and noble 
powers should have been capable of such mean enormities. 

War is the great school both for acquiring and exercising this species 
of magnanimity. Death, as we say, is the king of terrors ; and the 
man who has conquered the fear of death, is not hkely to lose his 
presence of mind at the approach of any other natural evil. In war, 
men become familiar with death, and are thereby necessarily cured of 
that superstitious horror with which it is viewed by the weak and inex- 
perienced. They consider it merely as the loss of life, and as no 
further the object of aversion than as life may happen to be that of 
desire. They learn from experience, too, that many seemingly great 
dangers are not so great as they appear ; and that, with courage, 
activity, and presence of mind, there is often a good probability of 
extricating themselves with honour from situations where at first they 
could see no hope. The dread of death is thus greatly diminished; 
and the confidence or hope of escaping it, augmented. They learn to 
expose themselves to danger with less reluctance. They are less 
anxious to get out of it, and less apt to lose their presence of mind 
while they are in it It is this habitual contempt of danger and death 
which ennobles the profession of a soldier, and bestows upon it, in the 
natural apprehensions of mankind, a rank and dignity superior to that 
of any other profession; and the skilful and successful exercise of 
this profession, in the service of their country, seems to have consti- 
tuted the most distinguishing feature in the character of the favourite 
heroes of all ages. 

Great warlike exploit, though undertaken contrary to every principle 
of justice, and carried on without any regard to humanity, sometimes 
interests us, and commands even some degree of a certain sort of 
esteem for the very worthless characters which conduct it We are 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 213 

interested even in the exploits of the buccaneers ; and read with some 
sort of esteem and admiration, the history of the most worthless men, 
who, in pursuit of the most criminal purposes, endured greater hardships, 
surmounted greater difficulties, and encountered greater dangers, than 
perhaps any which the course of history gives an account of. 

The command of anger appears upon many occasions not less 
generous and noble than that of fear. The proper expression of just 
indignation composes many of the most splendid and admired passages 
both of ancient and modem eloquence. The Philippics of Demos- 
thenes, the Catalinarians of Cicero, derive their whole beauty from the 
noble propriety with which this passion is expressed. But this just 
indignation is nothing but anger restrained and properly attempered to 
what the impartial spectator can enter into. The blustering and noisy 
passion which goes beyond this, is always odious and offensive, and 
interests us, not for the angry man, but for the man with whom he is 
angry. The nobleness of pardoning appears, upon many occasions, 
superior even to the most perfect propriety of resenting. When either 
proper acknowledgments have been made by the offending party, or 
even without any such acknowledgments, when the public interest 
requires that the most mortal enemies should unite for the discharge 
of some important duty, the man who can cast away all animosity, 
and act with confidence and cordiality towards the person who had 
most grievously offended him, does seem most justly to merit our 
highest admiration. 

The command of anger, however, does not always appear in such 
splendid colours. Fear is contrary to anger, and is often the motive 
which restrains it ; and in such cases the meanness of the motive takes 
away all the nobleness of the restraint Anger prompts to attack, and 
the indulgence of it seems sometimes to show a sort of courage and 
superiority to fear. The indulgence of anger is sometimes an object of 
vanity. • That of fear never is. Vain and weak men, among their in- 
feriors, or those who dare not resist them, often affect to be ostenta- 
tiously passionate, and fancy that they show, what is called, spirit in 
being so. A bully tells many stories of his own insolence, which are 
not true, and imagines that he thereby renders himself, if not more 
amiable and respectable, at least more formidable to his audience. 
Modem manners, which, by favouring the practice of duelling, may be 
said, in some cases, to encourage private revenge, contribute, perhaps, 
a good deal to render, in modem times, the restraint of anger by fear 
still more contemptible than it might otherwise appear to be. There 
is always something dignified in the command of fear, whatever may 
be the motive upon which it is founded. It is not so with the command 
of anger. Unless it is founded altogether in the sense of decency, of 
dignity, and propriety, it never is perfectly agreeable. 

To act according to the dictates of prudence, of justice, and proper 


beneficence, seems to have no great merit where there is no temptation 
to do otherwise. But to act with cool deliberation in the midst of the 
greatest dangers and difficulties ; to observe religiously the sacted rules 
of justice in spite both of the greatest interests which might tempt, and 
the greatest injuries which might provoke us to violate them ; never to 
suffer the benevolence of our temper to be damped or discouraged by 
the malignity and ingratitude of the individuals towards whom it may 
have been exercised ; is the character of the most exalted wisdom and 
virtue. Self-command is not only itself a great virtue, but from it all 
the other virtues seem to derive their principal lustre. 

The command of fear, the conunand of anger, are always great and 
noble powers. When they are directed by justice and benevolence, 
they are not only great virtues, but increase the splendour of those 
other virtues. They may, however, sometimes be directed by veiy 
different motives ; and in diis case, though still great and respectable, 
they may be excessively dangerous. The most intrepid valour may be 
employed in the cause of the greatest injustice. Amidst great provoca- 
tions, apparent tranquillity and good humour may sometimes conceal 
the most determined and cruel resolution to .revenge. The strength 
of mind requisite for such dissimulation, though always and necessarily 
contaminated by the bareness of falsehood, has, however, been often 
much admired by many people of no contemptible judgment The dis- 
simalation of Catherine of Medicis is often celebrated by the profound 
historian Davila ; that of Lord Digby, afterwards Earl of Bristol, by 
the grave and conscientious Lord Clarendon ; that of the £rst Ashley 
Earl of Shaftesbury,. by the judicious Mr. Locke. Even Cicero seems 
to consider this deceitful charact^, not indeed as of the highest dignity, 
but as not unsuitable to a certain flexibility of manners, which, he thinks 
may, notwithstanding, be, upon the whole, both agreeable and respect- 
able. He exemplifies it by the characters of Homer's Ulysses, of the 
Athenian Themistocles, of the Spartan Lysander, and of the Roman 
Marcus Crassus. This character of dark and deep dissimulation occurs 
most commonly in times of great public disorder ; amidst the violence 
of faction and civil war. When law has become in a great measure inn- 
potent, when the most perfect innocence cannot alone insure safety, 
regard to self-defence obliges the greatest part of men to have recourse 
to dexterity, to address, and to apparent acconunodation to whatever 
happens to be, at the moment, the prevailing party. This false char 
racter, too, is frequently accompanied with the coolest and most de- 
termined courage. The proper exercise of it supposes that courage, as 
death is commonly the certain consequence of detection. It may be 
employed indifferently, either to exasperate or to allay those furious 
animosities of adverse factions which impose the necessity of assuming 
it ; and though it may sometimes be useful, it is at least equally liable 
to be excessively pernicious. 

smith's THEOICY of MOtlAL SENTIMENTS. ^1$ 

The command of the less violent and turbulent passions seems much 
less liable to be abused to any pernicious purpose. Temperance, de^ 
cency, modesty, and moderation, are always amiaHe, and can seldom 
be directed to any bad end. It is from the unremitting steadiness of 
those gentler exertions of self-command, that the amiable virtue of 
chastity, that the respectable virtues o[ industry and frugality, derive 
an that sober lustre which attends them. The conduct of all those who 
are contented to walk in the humble paths of private and peaceable life, 
derives from the same principle the greater part of the beauty and 
grace which belong to it ; a beauty and grace, which, though much less 
dazzling, is not always less pleasing than those whidi accompany the 
more splendid actions of the hero, the statesman, or the legislator. 

After what has already been said, in several different parts of this dis- 
course, concerning the nature of self-command, I judge it unnecessary 
to enter into any further detail concerning those virtues. I shall only 
observe at present, that the point of propriety, the degree of any pas- 
sion which the impartial spectator approves of, is differently situated in 
different passions. In some passions the excess is less disagreeable 
than the defect ; and in such passions the point of propriety seems to 
stand high, or nearer to the excess than to the defect In other 
passions, the defect is less disagreeable than the excess ; and in 
such passions the point of propriety seems to stand low, or nearer 
to the defect than to the excess. The former are the passions 
which the spectator is most, the latter, those which he is least 
disposed to sympathize with. The former, too, are the passions of 
which the immediate feeling or sensation is agreeable to the person 
principally concerned ; the latter, those of which it is disagreeable. It 
may be laid down as a general rule, that the passions which the spectar 
tor is most disposed to sympathize with, and in which, upon that 
account, the point of propriety may be said to stand high, are those of 
which the immediate feeling or sensation is more or less agreeable to 
the person principally concerned : and that, on the contrary, the pas- 
sions which the spectator is least disposed to sympathize with, and in 
which, upon that account, the point of propriety may be said to stand 
low, are those of which the iirmiediate feeling or sensation is more or 
less disagreeable, or even painful, to the person principally concerned. 
This general rule, so far as I have been able to observe, admits not of 
a single exception. A few examples will at once both sufficiently ex- 
plain it and demonstrate the truth of it 

The disposition to the affections which tend to unite men in society 
to humanity, kindness, natural affection, friendship, esteem, may some- 
times be excessive. Even the excess of this disposition, however, 
renders a man interesting to everybody. Though we blame it, we still 
regard it with compassion, and even with kindness, and never with dis- 
like. "We are more sorry for it than angary at it To the person him- 


self, the indulgence even of such excessive affections is, upon many 
occasions, not only agreeable, but delicious. Upon some occasions, 
indeed, especially when directed, as is too often the case, towards un- 
worthy objects, it exposes him to much real and heartfelt distress. Even 
upon such occasions, however, a well-disposed mind regards him with 
the most exquisite pity, and feels the highest indignation against those 
who affect to despise him for his weakness and imprudence. The 
defect of this disposition, on the contrary, what is called hardness of 
heart, while it renders a man insensible to the feehngs and distresses of 
other people, renders other people equally insensible to his ; and, by 
excluding him from the friendship of all the world, excludes him from 
the best and most comfortable of all social enjoyments. 

The disposition to the affections which drive men from one another, 
and which tend, as it were, to break the bands of human society; the 
disposition to anger, hatred, envy, malice, revenge ; is, on the contrary, 
much more apt to offend by its excess than by its defect The excess 
renders a man wretched and miserable in his own mind, and the object 
of hatred, and sometimes even of horror, to other people. The defect 
is very seldom complained of. It may, however, be defective. The 
want of proper indignation is a most essential defect in the manly 
character, and, upon many occasions, renders a man incapable of pro- 
tecting either himself or his friends from insult and injustice. Even 
that principle, in the excess and improper direction of which consists 
the odious and detestable passion of envy, may be defective. Envy is 
that passion which views with malignant dislike the superiority of those 
who are really entitled to all the superiority they* possess. The man, 
however, who, in matters of consequence, tamely suffers other people, 
who are entitled to no such superiority, to rise above him or get before 
him, is justly condemned as mean-spirited. This weakness is com- 
monly founded in indolence, sometimes in good nature, in an aversion 
to opposition, to bustle and solicitation, and sometimes, too, in a sort 
of ill-judged magnanimity, which fancies that it can always continue to 
despise the advantage which it then despises, and, therefore, so easily 
gives up. Such weakness,^ however, is commonly followed by much 
regret and repentance ; and what had some appearance of magnanimity 
in the beginning frequently gives place to a most malignant envy in the 
end, and to a hatred of that superiority, which those who have once 
attained it, may often become really entitled to, by the very circum- 
stance of having attained it In order to live comfortably in the world, 
it is, upon aU occasions, as necessary to defend our dignity and rank, 
as it is to defend our life or our fortune. 

Our sensibility to personal danger and distress, like that to personal 
provocation, is much more apt to offend by its excess than by its defect 
No character is more contemptible than that of a coward ; no character 
is more admired than that of the man who faces death with intrepidity, 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 217 

and maintains his tranquillity and presence of niind amidst the most 
dreadful dangers. We esteem the man who supports pain and even 
torture with manhood and firmness ; and we can have little regard for 
him who sinks under them, and abandons himself to useless outcries 
and womanish lamentations. A fretful temper, which feels, with too 
much sensibility, every litde cross accident, renders a man miserable 
in himself and offensive to other people. A calm one, which does not 
allow its tranquillity to be disturbed, either by the small injuries, or by 
the little disasters incident to the usual course of human affairs; but 
which, amidst the natural and moral evils infesting the world, lays its 
account and is contented to suffer a little from both, is a blessing to the 
man himself, and gives ease and security to all his companions. 

Our sensibility, however, both to our own injuries and to our own 
misfortunes, though generally too strong, may likewise be too weak. 
The man who feels litde for his own misfortunes, must always feel less 
for those of other people, and be less disposed to relieve them. The 
man who has little resentment for the injuries which are done to him- 
self, must always have less for those which are done to other people, 
and be less disposed either to protect or to avenge them. A stupid 
insensibility to the events of human life necessarily extinguishes all that 
keen and earnest attention to the propriety of our own conduct, which 
constitutes the real essence of virtue. We can feel little anxiety about 
the propriety of our own action?, when we are indifferent about the 
events which may result from them. The man who feels the fuU dis- 
tress of the calamity which has befallen him, who feels the whole base- 
ness of the injustice which has been done to him, but who feels still 
more strongly what the dignity of his own character requires ; who does 
not abandon himself to the guidance of the undisciplined passions 
which his situation might naturally inspire ; but who governs his whole 
behaviour and conduct according to those restrained and corrected 
emotions which the great inmate, the great demi-god within the breast 
prescribes and approves of ; is alone the real man of virtue, the only 
real and proper object of love, respect, and admiration. Insensibility 
and that noble firmness, that exalted self-command, which is founded 
in the sense of dignity and propriety, are so far from being altogether 
the same, that in proportion as the former takes place, the merit of the 
latter is, in many cases, entirely taken away. 

But though the total want of sensibility to personal injury, to personal 
idanger and distress, would, in such situations, take away the whole 
merit of self-command, that sensibility, however, may very easily be 
too exquisite, and it frequently is so. When the sense of propriety, 
ivhen the authority of the judge within the breast, can control this 
extreme sensibility, that authority must no doubt appear very noble and 
■very great But the exertion of it may be too fatiguing ; it may have 
1:00 much to do. The individual, by a great effort, may behave perfecdy 



welL But the contest between the two principles, the warfare within 
the breast, may be too violent to be at all consistent with internal tran- 
quillity and happiness. The wise man whom Nature has endowed 
with this too exquisite sensibility, and whose too lively feelings have not 
been sufficiently blunted and hardened by early education and proper 
exercise, will avoid, as much as duty and propriety will permit, the 
situations for which he is not perfectly fitted. The man whose feeble 
and dehcate constitution renders him too sensible to pain, to hardship, 
and to every sort of bodily distress, should not wantonly embrace the 
profession of a soldier. The man of too much sensibihty to injury, 
should not rashly engage in the contests of faction. Though the sense 
of propriety should be strong enough to command all those sensibilities, 
the composure of the mind must always be disturbed in the struggle. 
In this disorder the judgment caimot always maintain its ordinary 
acuteness and precision ; and though he may always mean to act pro- 
perly, he may often act rashly and imprudently, and in a manner which 
he himself will, in the succeeding part of his life, be for ever ashamed 
of. A certain intrepidity, a certain firmness of nerves and hardiness of 
constitution, whether natural or acquired, are undoubtedly the best 
preparatives for all the great exertions of self-command. 

Though war and faction are certainly the best schools for forming 
every man to this hardiness and firmness of temper, though they are 
the best remedies for curing him of the opposite weaknesses, yet, if the 
day of trial should happen to come before he has completely learned 
his lesson, before the remedy has had time to produce its proper efifect, 
the consequences might not be agreeable. 

Our sensibihty to the pleasures, to the amusements, and enjoyments 
of human life, may oflfend, in the same manner, either by its excess or 
by its defect. Of the two, however, the excess seems less disagreeable 
than the defect Both to the spectator and to the person principally 
concerned, a strong propensity to joy is certainly more pleasing than 
a dull insensibility to the objects of amusement and diversion. We are 
charmed with the gaiety of youth, and even with the playfulness of 
childhood : but we soon grow weary of the flat and tasteless gravity 
which too frequently accompanies old age. When this propensity, 
indeed, is not restrained by the sense of propriety, when it is unsuitable 
to the time or to the place, to the age or to the situation of the person, 
when, to indulge it, he neglects either his interest or his duty ; it is 
justly blamed as excessive, and as hurtful both to the individual and to 
the society. In the greater part of such cases, however, what is chiefly 
to be found fault with is, not so much the strength of the propensity to 
joy, as the weakness of the sense of propriety and duty. A young man 
who has no relish for the diversions and amusements that are natural 
and suitable to. his age, who talks of nothing but his book or his 
business, is dishked as formal and pedantic ; and we give him no credit 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 919 

for his abstinence even from improper indulgences, to which he seems 
to have so little inclination. 

The principle of self-estimation may be too high, and it may likewise 
be too low. It is so very agreeable to think highly, and so very disagree* 
able to think meanly of ourselves, that, to the person himself, it cannot 
well be doubted, but that some degree of excess must be much less 
disagreeable than any degree of defect But to the impartial spectator, 
it may perhaps be thought, things must appear quite differently, and 
that to him, the defect must always be less disagreeable than the excess. 
And in our companions, no doubt, we much more frequently complain 
of the latter than of the former. When they assume upon us, or set 
themselves before US5 their self-estimation mortifies our own. Our own 
pride and vanity prompt us to accuse them of pride and vanity, and 
we cease to be the impartial spectators of their conduct When the 
same companions, however, suffer any other man to assume over them 
a superiority which does not belong to him, we not only blame them, 
but often despise them as mean-spirited. When, on the contrary, 
among other people, they push themselves a little more forward, and 
scramble to an elevation disproportioned, as we think, to their merit, 
though we may not perfectly approve of their conduct, we are often, 
upon the whole, diverted with it ; and, where there is no envy in the 
case, we are almost always much less displeased with them, than we 
should have been, had ^ey only suffered themselves to sink below 
their proper station. 

In estimating our own merit, in judging of our own character and 
conduct, there are two different standards to which we naturally com- 
pare them. The one is the idea of exact propriety and perfection, so 
far as we are each of us capable of comprehending that idea. The 
other is that degree of approximation to this idea which is commonly 
attained in the world, and which the greater part of our friends and 
coDEipanions, of our rivals and competitors, may have actually arrived 
at We very seldom (I am disposed to think, we never) attempt to 
judge of ourselves without giving more or less attention to both these 
different standards. But the attention of different men, and even of 
the same man at different times, is often very unequally divided be- 
tweien them ; and is sometimes principally directed towards the one, 
and sometimes towards the other. 

So far as our attention is directed towards the first standard, the 
wisest and best of us all, can, in his own character and conduct, see 
nothing but weakness and imperfection ; can discover no ground for 
arrogance and presumption, but a great deal for humility, regret, and 
repentance. So far as our attention is directed towards the second, we 
may be affected either in the one way or in the other, and feel ourselves, 
either really above, or really below, the standard with which we seek 
to compare ourselves. 



The wise and virtuous man directs his principal attention to the 
first standard ; the idea of exact propriety and perfection. There 
exists in the mind of every man, an idea of this kind, gradually formed 
from his observations upon the character and conduct both of himself 
and of other people. It is the slow, gradual, and progressive work of 
the great demigod within the breast, the great judge and arbiter of 
conduct This idea is in every man more or less accurately drawn, its 
colouring is more or less just, its outlines are more or less exactly 
designed, according to the delicacy and acuteness of that sensibility, 
with which those observations were made, and according to the care and 
attention employed in making them. In the wise and virtuous man 
they have been made with the most acute and delicate sensibility, and 
the utmost care and attention have been employed in making diem. 
Every day some feature is improved ; every day some blemish is cor- 
rected. He has studied this idea more than odier people, he compre- 
hends it more distinctly, he has formed a much more correct image of 
it, and is much more deeply enamoured of its exquisite and divine 
beauty. He endeavours, as well as he can, to assimilate his own cha- 
racter to this archetype of perfection. But he imitates the work of a 
divine artist, which can never be equalled. He feels the imperfect 
success of all his best endeavours, and sees, with grief and affliction, in 
how many different features the mortal copy falls short of the immortal 
original He remembers, with concern and humiliation, how often, 
from want of attention, from want of judgment, from want of temper, 
he has, both in words and actions, both in conduct and conversation, 
violated the exact rules of perfect propriety ; and has so far departed 
from that model, according to which he wished to fashion his own 
character and conduct When he directs his attention towards the 
second standard, indeed, that degree of excellence which his friends 
and acquaintances have commonly arrived at, he may be sensible of 
his own superiority. But, as his principal attention is always directed 
towards the first standard, he is necessarily much more humbled by the 
one comparison, than he ever can be elevated by the other. He is 
never so elated as to look down with insolence even upon those who 
are really below him. He feels so well his own imperfection, he knows 
so well the difficulty with which he attained his own distant approxima- 
tion to rectitude, that he cannot regard with contempt the still greater 
imperfections of other people. Far from insulting over their inferiority, 
he views it with the most indulgent commiseration, and, by his advice 
as well as example, is at all times willing to promote their further ad- 
vancement If, in any particular qualification, they happen to be 
superior to him (for who is so perfect as not to have many superiors in 
many different qualifications ?), far from envying their superiority, he, 
who knows how difficult it is to excel, esteems and honours their excel- 
lence, and never fails to bestow upon it the full measure of applause 

smith's THSORY of moral sentiments. 221 

which it deserves. His whole mind, in short, is deeply impressed, his 
whole behaviour and deportment are distinctly stamped with the cha- 
racter of real modesty ; with that of a very moderate estimation of his 
own merit, and, at the same time, with a very full sense of the merit 
of other people. 

In all the liberal and ingenious arts, in painting, in poetry, in music, 
in eloquence, in philosophy, the great artist feels always die real im- 
perfection of his own best works, and is more sensible than any man 
how much they fall short of that ideal perfection of which he has 
formed some conception, which he imitates as well as he can, but which 
he despairs of ever equalling. It is the inferior artist only, who is ever 
perfectly satisfied with his own performances. He has little conception 
of this ideal perfection, about which he has little employed his thoughts ; 
and it is chiefly to the works of other artists, of, perhaps, a still lower 
order, that he deigns to compare his own works. Boileau, the great 
French poet (in some of his works, perhaps not inferior to the greatest 
poet of the same kind, either ancient or modem), used to say, that no 
great man was ever completely satisfied with his own works. His 
acquaintance Santeuil (a writer of Latin verses, and who, on account 
of that school-boy accomplishment, had the weakness to fancy himself 
a poet), assured him that he himself was always completely satisfied 
widi his own. Boileau replied, with, perhaps, an arch ambiguity, that 
he certainly was the only great man that ever was so. Boileau, in 
judging of his own works, compared them with the standard of ideal 
perfection, which, in his own particular branch of the poetic art, he 
had, I presume, meditated as deeply, and conceived as (distinctly, as it 
is possible for man to conceive it. Santeuil, in judging of his own 
works, compared them, I suppose^ chiefly to those of the other Latin 
poets of his own time, to the great part of whom he was certainly very 
far from being inferior. But to support and finish off, if I may say so, 
the conduct and conversation of a whole life to some resemblance of 
this ideal perfection, is surely much more difficult than to work up to 
an equal resemblance any of the productions of any of the ingenious arts. 
The artist sits down to his work undisturbed, at leisure, in- the full 
possession and recollection of all his skill, experience, and knowledge. 
The wise man must support the propriety of his own conduct in health 
and sickness, in success and in disappointment, in the hour of fatigue 
and drowsy indolence, as well as in that of the most awakened atten- 
tion. The most sudden and unexpected assaults of difficulty and 
distress must never surprise him. The injustice of other people must 
never provoke him to injustice. The violence of faction must never 
confound him. All the hardships and hazards of war must never 
either dishearten or appal him. 

Of the persons who, in estimating their own merit, in judging of 
their own character and conduct, direct by far the greater part of their 


attention to the second standard, to that ordinary degree of excellence 
which IS comthbnly attained by other people, there are some who really 
and justly feel themselv^ very much above it, and who, by every 
intelligent and impartial spectator, are acknowledged to be sa The 
attention of such persons, however, being always principally directed, 
not to the standard of ideal, but to that of ordinary perfection, they have 
little sense of their own weaknesses and imperfections ; they have little 
modesty; and are often assuming, arrogant, and presumptuous; great 
admirers of themselves, and great contemners of other people. Though 
their character* are in general much lessxorrect, and their merit much 
inferior to that of the man of real and modest virtue ; yet their exces> 
sive presumption, founded upon their own excessive self-admiration, 
dazzles the multitude, and often imposes even upon those who are 
much superior to the multitude. The frequent, and often wonderful, 
success ^of the most ignorant quacks and impostors, both civil and 
feltgioui, sufficiently demonstrate how easily the multitude are imposed 
tipon by the most extravagant and groundless pretensions. But when 
those pretensions are supported by a very high degree of real and solid 
inerit, when they are displayed with all the splendour which ostentation 
can bestow upon them, when they are supported by high rank and 
great power, when they have often been successfully exerted, and are, 
upon that account, attended by the loud acclamations of the multitude; 
even the man of sober judgment often abandons himself to the general 
admiration. The very noise of those foolish acclamations often con- 
tributes to confound his understanding, and while he sees those great 
men only at a certain distance, he is often disposed to worship them 
with a sincere admiration, superior even to that with which they appear 
to worship themselves. When there is no envy in the case, we all take 
pleasure in admiring, and are, upon that account, naturally disposed, in 
our own fancies, to render complete and perfect in every respect the 
characters which, in many respects, are so very worthy of admiration. 
The excessive- self-admiration of those great men is well understood, 
perhaps, and even seen through, with some degree of derision, by those 
wise men who are much in their familiarity, and who secretly smile at 
those lofty pretensions, which, by people at a distance, are often 
regarded with reverence, and almost with adoration. Such, however, ' 
have been, in all ages, the greater part of those men who have pro- 
cured to themselves the most noisy fame, the most extensive reputa- 
tion ; a fame and reputation, too, which have too often descended to 
the remotest posterity. 

Great success in the world, great authority over the sentiments and 
opinions of mankind, have very seldom been acquired without some 
degree of this excessive self-admiration. The most splendid characters, 
the men who have performed the most illustrious actions, who have 
brought about the greatest revolutions, both in the situations and opin- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 223 

ions of mankind ; the most successful warriors, the greatest statesmen 
and legislators, the eloquent founders and leaders of the most numer- 
ous and most successful sects and parties ; have many of them been, 
not more distinguished for their very great merit, than for a degree of 
presumption and self-admiration altogether disproportioned even to that 
very great merit This presumption was, perhaps, necessary, not only 
to prompt them to undertakings which a more sober mind would never 
have thought of, but to command the submission and obedience of their 
followers to support them in such undertakings. When crowned with 
success, accordingly, this presumption has often betrayed them into a 
vanity that approached almost to insanity and folly. Alexander the 
Great appears, not only to have wished that other people should think 
him a god, but to have been at least very well-disposed to fancy him- 
self such. Upon his deathbed, the most ungodlike of all situations, he 
requested of his friends that, to the respectable list of deities, into 
which himself had long before been inserted, his old mother Olympia 
might likewise have the honour of being added. Amidst the respectful 
admiration of his followers and disciples, amidst the universal applause 
of the public, after the orade, which probably had followed the voice of 
that applause, had pronounced him the wisest of men, the great wisdom 
of Socrates, though it did not suffer him to fancy himself a god, yet 
was not great enough to hinder him from fancying that he had secret 
and frequent intimations from some invisible and divine being. The 
sound head of Caesar was not so perfectly sound as to hinder him from 
being much pleased with his divine gen«dogy from the goddess Venus ; 
and, before the temple of this pretended great-grandmother, to receive, 
without rising from his seat, the Roman senate, when that illustrious 
body came to present him with some decrees conferring upon him the 
most extravagant honours. This insolence, joined to some other acts 
of an almost childish vanity, little to be expected from an understand- 
ing at once so very acute and comprehensive, seems, by exasperating the 
public jealousy, to have emboldened his assassins, and to have hastened 
the execution of their conspiracy. The religion and manners of modem 
times give our great men little encouragement to fancy themselves 
either gods or even prophets. Success, however, joined to great poptP- 
lar favour, has often so far turned the heads of the greatest of them, as 
to make them ascribe to themselves both an importance and an ability 
much beyond what they really possessed ; and, by this presumption, 
to precipitate themselves into many rash and sometimes ruinous adven- 
tures. It is a characteristic almost peculiar to the great Duke of Marl- 
borough, that ten years of such uninterrupted and such splendid success 
as scarce any other general could boast of, never betrayed him into a 
a single rash action, scarce into a single rash word or expression. The 
same temperate coolness and self-conunand cannot, I think, be ascribed 
to any other great warrior of later times ; not to Prince Eugene, not to 


the late King of Prussia, not the the great Prince of Cond^, not even to 
Gustavus Adolphus. Turenne seems to have approached the nearest 
to it ; but several different transactions of his life sufficiently demon- 
strate that it was in him by no means so perfect as it was in the great 
Duke of Marlborough. 

In the humble projects of private life, as well as in the ambitious and 
proud pursuits of high stations, great abilities and successful enterprise, 
in the beginning, have frequently encouraged to undertakings which 
necessarily led to bankruptcy and ruin in the end 

The esteem and athniration which every impartial spectator con- 
ceives for the real merit of those spirited, magnanimous, and high- 
minded persons, as it is a just and well-founded sentiment, so it is a 
steady and permanent one, and altogether independent of their good 
or bad fortune. It is otherwise with that admiration which he is apt to 
conceive for their excessive self-estimation and presumption. While 
they are successful, indeed, he is often perfectly conquered and over- 
borne by them. Success covers from his eyes, not only the great im- 
prudence, but frequently the great injustice of their enterprises ; and 
far from blaming this defective part of their character, he often views 
it with the most enthusiastic admiration. When they are unfortunate, 
however, things change their colours and their names. What was be- 
fore heroic magnanimity, resumes its proper appellation of extravagant 
rashness and folly ; and the blackness of that avidity and injustice, 
which was before hid under the splendour of prosperity, comes full into 
view, and blots the whole lustre of their enterprise. Had Caesar, 
instead of gaining, lost the battle of Pharsalia, his character would, at 
this hour, have ranked a little above that of Cataline, and the weakest 
man would have viewed his enterprise against the laws of his country 
in blacker colours, than, perhaps even Cato, with all the animosity of a 
partyman, ever viewed it at the time. His real merit, the justness of 
his taste, the simplicity and elegance of his writings, the propriety of 
his eloquence, his skill in war, his resources in distress, his cool and 
sedate judgment in danger, his faithful attachment to his friends, his 
unexampled generosity to his enemies, would all have been acknow- 
ledged ; as the real merit of Cataline, who had many great qualities, is 
aclmowledged at this day. But the insolence and injustice of his all- 
grasping ambition would have darkened and extinguished the glory of 
all that real merit Fortune has in this, as well as in some other re- 
spects already mentioned, g^eat influence over the moral sentiments of 
mankind, and, according as she is either favourable or adverse, can 
render the same character the object, either of general love and admi- 
ration, or of universal hatred and contempt. This great disorder in our 
moral sentiments is by no means, however, without its utility ; and we 
may on this, as well as on many other occasions, admire the wisdom of 
God even in the weakness and folly of man. Our admiration of sue- 


human affairs may assign to us , tn r*»*ro,.J«,;*k ^-ourse oi even with f sort^ -Pe^rSirnf^t^r^^^^tiZc^ 

that of the most brutal and sa^ b^^J' ?r ^*^f ''"*"' *»^*?^ 
ora Tamerlane. ToaUsuch mi|ty coSll!!. T*' ^ ^"«*'' 
kind are naturally disposed to toS. upTiAa^^ •' '"*'. '^'T^' 
doubt, with a very weak and fooUsh ^Tratiol'^^^^^f ,^"^^1,^ 
however, they are taught to acquiesce Vth less relulSce uXS 
government which an irresistible force it^ooses uoon th AfT 

which no reluctance could deliver them, ^°^» ^^^ "°°^ 

Though in prosperity however, the nun o «cessive self-estimation 
may sometimes appear to have some advantirg ^^ ^ «»"uu 

rect and modest virtue ; though the applause c ^^ mnltit H ^ A^^'f 
those who see them both only at a distance, ia^ft^jj ^ ^ f ' ^ . 
favour of the one than it ever is in favour of the ^^^^ . "^ ii^ v*^ ^^ 
fairly computed, the real balance of advantage is, ^-i^ * • ' ii ^^^ 
greatly in favour of the latter and against the fonr*. q-v ^ cases, 
neither ascribes to himself, nor wishes that other peo^ i^ ^i?^^ ^k^ 
to him, any other merit besides that which really belo. v'"/. ^^°^ 
no himiiliation, dreads no detection ; but rests content ^ j"^' ie^rs 
upon the genuine truth and solidity of his own character, r^ secure 
may neither be very numerous nor very loud in their ap^^ ^ niirers 
the wisest man who sees him the nearest and who knows hj?ff ^ \^^^ 
admires him the most To a real wise man the jidicious ? « * 
weighed approbation of a single wise man, gives mre heartit ^ • 
faction than all the noisy applauses of ten thousari ignorant v^^^X 
enthusiastic admirers. He may say with Parmenids, who, Jp^i "?^ 
ing a philosophical discourse before a public asseimly at -Athens **^ 
observing, that, except Plato, the whole company lad eft him coT 
tinued, notwithstanding, to read 0n, and said that Plao alone wa& " 
audience sufficient for him. I 

It is otherwise with the man of Excessive self-estinatici The wise 
men who see him the nearest, idmire him the leist Amidst the 
intoxication of prosperity, their sol^sr and just esteem falio far short 
of the extravagance of his own s4f-admiration, that he tards it as 
mere malignity and envy. He su^ects his best friends. Their com- 
pany becomes offensive to him. ^e drives them from 1 presence" 
and often rewards their services, ^ot only with ingratitJ but with 
cruelty and injustice. He abandis his confidence to Arers and 
traitors, who pretend to idolize his^anity and presumptioUncl that 


Character which in the beginning, though in son* 5*^1*^ J^^*^ 
Zs upon the whole, both amiable and respec^b «, becomes contemp- 
me Zd odious in the end. Amidst tb- ^toxication of prospemy, 
Alexander kiUed Clytus, for having pr.«"ed the «pb,ts of his father 
pS to his own; put Calisthen^ to death m tortoe, for havmg 
«Sd to adore him in the Per^ manner ,- and murdered the gi«t 
remsea ro aao c ,j^ble Parmemo, after having, upon the 

fnend of his father, .t^* ^e|f g^ ^^ the torture and afterwards to 
most Zrmndless s^sP'^^^^^^f^'^^ ^f Aat old man, the rest having all 
the scaffold the only ij«^«g^«>«»^^ ^ ^^ ^^^^^ ^^ J^^^ 

before died in ms ' Afwiians were very fortunate who could 

Phihp used to say *^ ^ ^jj^ ^^ i^j,^,^ j^ ^j,^ ^^^^ ^^ ^ 

find ten S^'^f^l^J^^^^'^t Parmenio. It was upon the vigilance 
his life, could n^'fy^f^flio that he reposed at all times with^^- 
and attention oi I ^ j^^ ^^^^ ^^ ^^ ^^ .^ ^^^ ^^ 

dence and secur^, ^^.^ ^^ ^^ j^ ^.^ safety, for Parmenio 

*Let us dnnk, my ine» ^ -.^1.1. j 

J J . , , j^ ^^ this same Parmemo, with whose presence and 

never nn . J^{a Alexander had gained all his victories ; and 

counsel, it had Deen » 1 1. 1. j • j • 1 • ^ 

i^uuiiow , ^^^ and counsel, he had never gained a single victory. 

SeTumble, adiv'"?» ^.'^ fl*«*=™f. «ends whom Alexander left in 
A aiith^^ behind him, divided his empire among tbem- 
power ana ^^^laving thus robbed his family and kindred of their 
selves, an ^^^ ^^^^ another, every single surviving individual ot 
'f heth «»=^« or female, to death. 

w' T '^*^y» ^^^ ^^^ pardon, but thoroughly enter into and symr 

^^ ^ ?: the excessive self-estimation of those splendid characters 
patnwe vn^ Q\iset^'e a great and distinguished superiority above the 
m w ic^^^^^ ^j rtanldnd. We call them spirited,, magnanimous, and 
coinino ^^^ ; wotis which all involve in their meaning a considierable 
^^^ .]'^f praise ad admiration. But we cannot enter into and sym- 
T^e with the ecessive self-estimation of those characters in which 
^^arf discern n< such distinguished superiority. We are disgusted 

d revolted by 1 ; and it is with some difficulty that we can either 
^rdon or siffer if We call it pride or vanity ; two words, of which 
the latter akaysJand the former for the most part, involve in their 
meaning a onsi(prable degree of llame. 

Those to vi(fes, however, thoufh resembling, in some respects, as 
being botlnodiications of excesave self-estimation, are yet, in many 
respects, ^ different from one aiother. 

The pt»d man is sincere, an^ in the bottom of his heart, is con- 
vinced ofis own superiority ; thoigh it may sometimes be difficult to 
guess up '^^hat that conviction i founded. He wishes you to view 
him in rother light than that ii which, when he places himself in 
your sittion, he really views hinself. He demands no more of you 
than, wt he thinks, justice. If ou appear not to respect him as he 

smith's THEORV of moral sentiments. ±2J 

respects himself, he is more ofFended than mortified, and feels the 
same indignant resentment as if he had suffered a real injury. He 
does not even then, however, deign to explain the grounds of his own 
pretensions. He disdains to cqurt your esteem. He affects even to 
despise it, and endeavours to maintain his assumed station, not so 
much by making you sensible of his superiority, as of your own mean** 
ness. He seems to wish not so much to excite your esteem for htm^ 
self^ as to mortify that iorytmrself. 

The vain man is not sincere, and, in the bottom of his heart, is very 
seldom convinced of that superiority which he wishes you to ascribe to 
him. He wishes you to view him in much more splendid colours than 
those in which, when he places himself in your situation, and supposes 
you to know all that he knows, he can really view himself. When you 
appear to view him, therefore, in different colours, perhaps in his proper 
colours, he is much more mortified than offended. The grounds of his 
claim to that character which he wishes you to ascribe to him, he takes 
every opportunity of displaying, both by the most ostentatious and 
unnecessary exhibition of the good qualities and accomplishments 
which he possesses in some tolerable degree, and sometimes even by 
false pretensions to those which he either possesses in no degree, or in 
so very slender a degree that he may well enough be said to possess 
them in no degree. Far from despising your esteem, he courts it with 
the most anxious assiduity. Far from wishing to mortify your self- 
estimation, he is happy to cherish it, in hopes that in return you will 
cherish his own. He flatters in order to be flattered. He studies to 
please, and endeavours to bribe you into a good opinion of him by 
politeness and complaisance, and sometimes even by real and essential 
good offices, though often displayed, perhaps, with unnecessary osten- 

The vain man sees the respect which is pdd to rank and fortune, 
and wishes to usurp this respect, as well as that for talents and virtues. 
His dress, his equipage, his way of living, accordingly, all announce 
both a higher rank and a greater fortune than really belong to him; 
and in order to support this foolish imposition for a few years in the 
beginning of his life, he often reduces himself to poverty and distress 
long before the end of it As long as he can continue his expense,' 
however, his vanity is delighted with viewing himself, not in the light 
in which you would view him if you knew all that he knows ; but in 
that in which, he imagines, he has, by his own address, induced you 
actually to view him. Of all the illusions of vanity that is, perhaps, 
the most conmion. Obscure strangers who visit foreign countries, or 
who, from a remote province, come to visit, for a short time, the capital 
of their own country, most frequently attempt to practise it. The folly 
of the attempt, though always very great and most unworthy of a man , 
of sense, may not be altogether so great upon such as upon most other 


occasions. If their stay is short, they may escape any disgraceful 
detection ; and, after indulging their vanity for a few months or a few 
years, they may return to their own homes, and repair, by future par- 
simony, the waste of their past profusion. 

The proud man can very seldom be accused of this folly. His sense 
of his own dignity renders him careful to preserve his independency, 
and, when his fortune happens not to be large, though he wishes to be 
decent, he studies to be frugal and attentive in all his expenses. The 
ostentatious expense of the vain man is highly offensive to him. It 
outshines, perhaps, his own. It provokes his indignation as an insolent 
assumption of a rank which is by no means due ; and he never talks of 
it without loading it with the harshest and severest reproaches. 

The proud man does not always feel himself at his ease in the com- 
pany of his equals, and stiU less in that of his superiors. H^ cannot 
lay down his lofty pretensions, and the countenance and conversation 
of such company overawe him so much that he dare not display them. 
He has recourse to humbler company, for which he has litde respect, 
which he would not willingly choose, and which is by no means agree- 
able to him ; that of his inferiors, his flatterers, and dependants. He 
seldom visits his superiors, or^ if he does, it is rather to show that he is 
entitled to live in such company, than for any real satisfaction that he 
enjoys in it It is as Lord Clarendon says of the Earl of Arundel, that 
he sometimes went to court, because he could there only find a greater 
man than himself; but that he went very seldom, because he found 
there a greater man than himself. 

It is quite otherwise with the vain man. He courts the company of 
his superiors as much as the proud man shuns it Their splendour, he 
seems to think, reflects a splendour upon those who are much about 
them. He haunts the courts of kings and the levees of ministers, and 
gives himself the air of being a candidate for fortune and preferment, 
when in reality he possesses the much more precious happiness, if he 
knew how to enjoy it, of not being one. He is fond of being admitted 
to the tables of the great, and still more fond of magnifying to other 
people the familiarity with which he is honoured there. He associates 
himself, as much as he can, with fashionable people, with those who 
are supposed to direct the public opinion,, with the witty, with the 
learned, with the popular; and he shuns the company of his best 
friends whenever the very uncertain current of public favour happens 
to run in any respect against them. With the people to whom he 
wishes to recommend himself, he is not always very delicate about the 
means which he employs for that purpose; unnecessary ostentation, 
groundless pretensions, constant assentation, frequently flattery, though 
for the most part a pleasant and sprightly flattery, and very seldom the 
gross and fulsome flattery of a parasite. The proud man, on the con- 
trary, never flatters, and is frequently scarce civil to any body. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 229 

Notwithstanding all its groundless pretensions, however, vanity is 
almost always a sprightly and a gay, and very often a good-natured 
passion. Pride is always a grave, a sullen, and a severe one. Even 
the falsehoods of the vain man are all innocent falsehoods, meant to 
raise himself, not to lower other people. To do the proud man justice 
he very seldom stoops to the baseness of falsehood. When he does, 
however, his falsehoods are by no means so innocent They are all 
mischievous, and meant to lower other people. He is &1II of indignation 
at the unjust superiority, as he thinks it, which is given to them. He 
views them with malignity and envy, and, in talking of them, often 
endeavours, as much as he can, to extenuate and lessen whatever are 
the grounds upon which their superiority is supposed to be founded. 
Whatever tales are circulated to their disadvantage, though he seldom 
forges them himself, yet he often takes pleasure in believing them, is 
by no means unwilling to repeat them, and even sometimes with some 
degree of exaggeration. The worst falsehoods of vanity are what we 
call white lies : those of pride, whenever it condescends to falsehood, 
are all of the opposite complexion. 

Our dislike to pride and vanity generally disposes us to rank the 
persons whom we accuse of those vices radier below than above the 
common level In this judgment however, I think, we are most fre- 
quently in the wrong, and that both the proud and the vain man are 
often (perhaps for the most part) a good deal above it ; though not near 
so much as either the one really thinks himself, or as the other wishes 
you to think him. If we compare them with their own pretensions, 
they may appear the just objects of contempt But when we compare 
them with what the greater part of their rivals and competitors really 
are, they may appear quite otherwise, and very much above the 
conmion leveL Where there is this real superiority, pride is frequently 
attended with many respectable virtues ; with truth, with integrity, with 
a high sense of honour, with cordial and steady friendship, with the 
most inflexible firmness and resolution. Vanity, with many amiable 
ones; with hiunanity, with politeness, with a desire to oblige in all 
little matters, and sometimes with a real generosity in great ones ; a 
generosity, however, which it often wishes to display in the most 
splendid colours that it can. By their rivals and enemies, the French, 
in the last century, were accused of vanity ; the Spaniards, of pride ; 
and foreign nations were disposed to consider the one as the more 
amiable ; the other, as the more respectable people. 

The words vain and vanity are never taken in a good sense. We 
sometimes say of a man, when we are talking of him in good humour, 
that he is the better for his vanity, or that his vanity is more diverting 
than offensive; but we still consider it as a foible and a ridiculous 
feature in his character. 

The words ^r^2^ and/r^, on the contrary, are sometimes taken in 


a good sense. We frequently say of a man, that he is too proud, or 
that he has too much noble pride, ever to suffer himself to do a mean 
thing. Pride is, in this case, confounded with magnanimity. Aristotle, 
a philosopher who certainly knew the world, in drawii^^ the character 
of the magnanimous man, paints him with many features which, in the 
two last centuries, were commonly ascribed to the Spanish character: 
that he was deliberate in all his resolutions ; slow, and even tardy, in 
all his actions ; that his voice was grave, his speech deliberate, his step 
and motion slow ; that he appeared indolent and even slothfiil, not at 
all disposed to bustle about little matters, but to act with the most 
determined and vigorous resolution upon all great and illustrious 
occasions : that he was not a lover of danger, or forward to expose 
himself to little dangers, but to great dangers ; and that, when he ex- 
posed himself to danger, he was altogether regardless of his life. 

The proud man is commonly too well contented with himself to 
think that his character requires any amendment The man who feels 
himself all-perfect, naturally enough despises all further improvement 
His self-sufficiency and absurd conceit of his own superiority, com- 
monly attend him from his youth to his most advanced age ; and he 
dies, as Hamlet says, 'with all his sins upon his head,^unanointed, 

It is frequently quite otherwise with the vain man. The desire of 
the esteem and admiration of. other people, when for qualities and 
talents which are the natural and proper objects of esteem and admi- 
ration, is the real love of true glory; a passion which, if not the very 
best passion of human nature, is certainly one of the best Vanity is 
very frequently no more than an attempt prematurely to usurp that 
glory before it is due. Though your son, under five-and-twenty years 
of age, should be but a coxcomb ; do not, upon that account, despair 
of his becoming, before he is forty, a very wise and worthy man, and a 
real proficient in all those talents and virtues to which, at present, he 
may only be an ostentatious and empty pretender. The great secret 
of education is to direct vanity to proper objects. Never suffer him to 
value himself upon trivial accomplishments. But do not always dis- 
courage his pretensions to those that are of real importance. He would 
not pretend to them if he did not earnestly desire to possess them. 
Encourage this desire ; afford him every means to facilitate the acqui- 
sition ; and do not take too much offence, although he should some- 
times assume the air of having attained it a httle before the time. 

Such, I say, are the distinguishing characteristics of pride and vanity, 
when each of them acts according t« its proper character. But the 
proud man is often vain ; and the vain man is often proud. Nothing 
can be more natural than that the man, who thinks much more highly 
of himself than he deserves, should wish that other people should think 
still more highly of him ; or that the man, who wishes that other people 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 231 

should think more highly of him than he thinks of himself, should, at 
tlie same time, think much more highly of himself than he deserves. 
Those two vices being frequently blended in the same character, the 
characteristics of both are necessarily confounded; and we sometimes 
find the superficial and impertinent ostentation of vanity joined to the 
most malignant and derisive insolence of pride. We are sometimes, 
upon that account, at a loss how to rank a particular chau-acter, or 
whether to place it among the proud or among the vain. 

Men of merit considerably above the common level, sometimes under- 
rate as well as over-rate themselves. Such characters, though not very 
dignified, are often, in private society, far from being disagreeable. His 
companions all feel themselves much at their ease in the society of a 
man so perfectly modest and unassuming. If those companions, how- 
ever, have not both more discernment and more generosity than ordi- 
nary, though they may have some kindness for him, they have seldom 
much respect ; and the warmth of their kindness is very seldom suffi- 
cient to compensate the coldness of their respect Men of no more 
than ordinary discernment never rate any person higher than he 
appears to rate himsel£ He seems doubtful himself, they say, whether 
he is perfectly fit for such a situation or such an office ; and imme- 
diately give the preference to some impudent blockhead who entertains 
no doubt about his own qualifications. Though they should have dis- 
cernment, yet, if they want generosity, they never /ail to take advantage 
of his simplicity, and to assume over him an impertinent superiority 
which they are by no means entitled to. His good nature may enable 
him to bear this for some time ; but he grows weary at last, and fre- 
quently when it is too late, and when that rank, which he ought to 
have assumed, is lost irrecoverably, and usurped, in consequence of his 
own backwardness, by some of his more forward, though much less 
meritorious companions. A man of this character must have been very 
fortunate in the early choice of his companions, if, in going through 
the world, he meets always with fair justice, even from those whom, 
from his own past kindness, he might have some reason to consider as 
his best friends ; and a youth, who may be too unassuming and too 
unambitious, is frequently followed by an insignificzmt, complaining, 
and discontented old age. 

Those unfortunate persons whom natture has formed a good deal 
below the common level, seem oftentimes to rate themselves still more 
below it than they really are. This humility appears sometimes to sink 
them into idiotism. Whoever has taken the trouble to examine idiots 
with attention, will find that, in many of them, the faculties of the 
understanding are by no means weaker than in several other people, 
who, though acknowledged to be dull and stupid, are not, by any body, 
accounted idiots. Many idiots, with no more than ordinary education, 
have been taught to read, write, and account tolerably well. Many 


persons, never accounted idiots, notwithstanding the most careful 
education, and notwithstanding that, in their advanced age, they have 
had spirit enough to attempt to learn what their early education had 
not taught them, have never been able to acquire, in any tolerable de- 
gree, any one of those three accomplishments. By an instinct of pride, 
however, they set themselves upon a level with their equals in age and 
situation ; and, with courage and firmness, maintain their proper station 
among their companions. By an opposite instinct, the idiot feels him- 
self below every company into which you can introduce hinu Ill-usage, 
to which he is extremely liable, is capable of throwing him into the 
most violent fits of rage and fury. But no good usage, no kindness or 
indulgence, can ever raise him to converse with you as your equal If 
you can bring him to converse with you at all, however, you wiU fre- 
quently find his answers sufficiently pertinent, and even sensible. But 
they are always stamped with a distinct consciousness of his own great 
inferiority. He seems to shrink and, as it were, to retire from your 
look and conversation ; and to feel, when he places himself in your 
situation, that, notwithstanding your apparent condescension, you 
cannot help considering him as immensely below you. Some idiots, 
perhaps the greater part, seem to be so, chiefly or altogether, from a 
certain numbness or torpidity in the faculties of the understanding. 
But there are others, in whom those faculties do not appear more 
torpid or benumbed Ihan in many other people who are not accounted 
idiots. But that instinct of pride, necessary to support them upon an 
equality with their brethren, seems to be totally wanting in the former 
and not in the latter. 

That degree of self-estimation, therefore, which contributes most to 
the happiness and contentment of the person himself, seems likewise 
most agreeable to the impartial spectator. 

The man who esteems himsetf as he ought, and no more than he 
ought, seldom fails to obtain from other people all the esteem that he 
himself thinks due. He desires no more than is due to him, and he 
rests upon it with complete satisfaction. 

The proud and the vain man, on the contrary, are constantly dis- 
satisfied. The one is tormented with indignation at the unjust supe- 
riority, as he thinks it, of other people. The other is in continual 
dread of the shame, which, he foresees, would attend upon the de- 
tection of his groundless pretensions. Even the extravagant preten- 
sions of the man of real magnanimity, though, when supported by 
splendid abilities and virtues, and, above all, by good fortune, they 
impose upon the multitude, whose applauses he little regards, do not 
impose upon those wise men whose approbation he can only value, and 
whose esteem he is most anxious to acquire. He feels that they see 
through, and suspects that they despise his excessive presumption; 
and he often suffers the cruel misfortune of becoming, first the jealous 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 233 

and secret, and at last the open, furious, and vindictive enemy of those 
very persons, whose friendship it would have given him the greatest 
happiness to enjoy with unsuspicious security. 

Though our dislike to the proud and the vain often disposes us to 
rank them rather below than above their proper station, yet, unless we 
are provoked by some particular and personal impertinence, we very 
seldom venture to use them ilL In conunon cases, we endeavour, for 
our own ease, rather to acquiesce, and, as well as we can, to accom- 
modate ourselves to their foUy. But, to the man who under-rates him- 
self, unless we have both more discernment and more generosity than 
belong to the greater part of men, we seldom fail to do, at least, all the 
injustice which he does to himself, and frequently a great deal more. 
He is not only more unhappy in his own feehngs than either the proud 
or the vain, but he is much more Uable to every sort, of ill-usage from 
other people. In almost all cases, it is better to be a little too proud, 
than, in any respect, too humble; and, in the sentiment of self-estima- 
tion, some degree of excess seems, both to the person himself and to 
the impartial spectator, to be less disagreeable than any degrep of 
defect of that feeling. 

In this, therefore, as well as in every other emotion, passion, and 
habit, the degree that is most agreeable to the impartial spectator is 
likewise most agreeable to the person himself ; and according as either 
the excess or the defect is least offensive to the former, so, either the 
one or the other is in proportion least disagreeable to the latter. 

Conclusion of the Sixth Part. 
Concern for our own happiness recommends to us the virtue of pru- \,' 
dence : concern for that of other people, the virtues of justice and 
beneficence ; of which, the one restrains us from hurting, the other 
prompts us to promote that happiness. Independent of any regard 
either to what are, or to what ought to be, or to what upon a certain 
condition would be, the sentiments of other people, the first of those 
three virtues is originally reconmiended to us by our selfish, the other ^-^^ 
two by our benevolent affections. Regard to the sentiments of other 
people, however, comes afterwards both to enforce and to direct the 
practice of all those virtues; and no man during, either the whole 
course of his life, or that of any considerable part of it, ever trod 
steadily and uniformly in the paths of prudence, of justice, or of proper 
beneficence, whose conduct was not principally directed by a regard to 
the sentiments of the supposed impartial spectator, of the great inmate - 
of the breast, the great judge and arbiter of conduct If in the course 
of the day we have swerved in any respect from the rules which he 
prescribes to us; if we have either exceeded or relaxed in our frugahty ; 



if we have either exceeded or relaxed in our indtistry; if dirough 
passion or inadvertency, we have hurt in any respect the interest or 
happiness of our neighboiu*; if we have neglected a plam and proper 
opportunity of promoting that interest and happiness ; it is this inmate 
who, in the evening, calls us to an account for all those omissions and 
violations, and his reproaches often make us blush inwardly both for 
our folly and inattention to our own happiness, and for our stiH greater 
indifference and inattention, perhaps, to that of other people. 

But though the virtues of prudence, justice, and beneficence, may, 
upon different occasions, be recommended to us almost equally by two 
different principles ; those of self-«ommand are, upon most occasions, 
principally and almost entirely recommended to us by one; by the 
sense of propriety, by regard to the sentiments of the supposed im- 
partial spectator.. Without the restraint which this principle imposes, 
.every passion would, upon most occasions, rush headlong, if I may say 
so, to its own gratification. Anger would follow the suggestions of its 
•own fury ; fear those of its own violent agitations. Regard to no time 
or place would induce vanity to refrain from the loudest and most 
impertinent ostentation; or voluptuousness from the most open, in- 
decent, and scandalous indulgence. Respect for what are, or for what 
ought to be, or for what upon a certain condition would be, the senti- 
ments of other people, is the sole principle which, upon most occasions, 
over-awes all those mutinous and turbulent passions into that tone and 
temper which the impartial spectator can enter into and cordially 
sjrmpathize with. 

Upon some occasions, indeed, those passions are restrained, not so 
much by a sense of their impropriety, as by prudential considerations 
of the bad consequences which might follow from their indulgence. In 
such cases, the passions, though restrained, are not always subdued, 
but often remain lurking in the breast with ^ their original fury. The 
man whose anger is restrained by fear, does not always lay aside his 
anger, but only reserves its gratification for a more ^e opportunity. 
JBut the man who, in relating to some other person the injury whidi 
has been done to him, feels at once the fury of his passion cooled and 
becalmed by sjrmpathy with the more moderate sentiments of his com- 
panion) who at once adopts those more moderate sentiments, and comes 
to view that injury, not in the black and atrocious colours in which he 
had originally beheld it, but in the much milder and fairer light in 
which his companion naturally views it; not only restrains, but in 
some measure subdues^ his anger. The passion becomes really less 
than it was before, and less capable of exciting him to the violent and 
bloody revenge which at first, perhaps, he might have thought of 
inflicting on his enemy. 

Those passions which are restrained by the sense of propriety, are some degree moderated and subdued by it But those which are 


restrained only by prudential considerations of any kind, are, on the 
contrary, frequently inflamed by the restraint, and sometimes (long 
after the provocation given, and when nobody is thinking about -it) 
burst out absurdly and unexpectedly, and that with tenfold fury and 

Anger, however, as well as evoy other passion, may, upon many 
occasions, be very properly restrained by prudential considerations. 
Some exertion of manhood and self-command is even necessary for 
this sort of restraint; and the impartial spectator may sometimes 
view it with that sort of cold esteem due to that species of conduct 
which he considers as a mere matter of vulgar prudence; but never 
with that affectionate admiration with which he surveys the same 
passions, when, by the sense of propriety, they are moderated and 
subdued to what he himself can readily enter into. In the former 
species of restraint, he may frequently discern some degree of pro- 
priety, and, if you will, even of virtue ; but it is a propriety and virtue 
of a much inferior order to those which he always feels with transport 
and admiration in the latter. 

The virtues of prudence, justice, and beneficence, have no tendency 
to produce any but the most agreeable effects. Regard to those effects, 
as it originally recommends them to the actor, so does it afterwards to 
the impartial spectator. In our approbation of the character of the 
prudent man, we feel, with peculiar complacency, the security which 
he must enjoy while he walks under the safeguard of that sedate and 
deliberate virtue. In our approbation of the character of the just man, 
we feel, with equal complacency, the security which all those connected 
with him, whether in neighbourhood, society, or business must derive 
from his scrupulous anxiety never either to hurt or Offend. In our 
approbation of the character of the beneficent man, we enter into the 
gratitude of all those who are within the sphere of his good offices, and 
conceive with them the highest sense of his merit In our approbation 
of all those virtues, our sense of their agreeable effects, of their utility, 
either to the person who exercises them, or to some other persons, joins 
with our sense of their propriety, and constitutes always a considerable, 
frequently the greater part of that approbation. 

But in our approbation of the virtues of self-command, complacency 
with their effects sometimes constitutes no part, and frequently but a 
small part, of that approbation. Those effects may sometimes be 
agreeable, and sometimes disagreeable; and though our approbation 
is no doubt stronger in the former case, it is by no means altogether 
destroyed in the latter. The most heroic valour may be employed 
indifferently in the cause either of justice or of injustice ; and though 
It is no doubt much more loved and admired in the former case, it still 
appears a great and respectable quality even in the latter. In that, and 
in all the other virtues of self-command, the splendid and dazzling 



quality seems always to be the greatness and steadiness of the exertion, 
and the strong sense of propriety which is necessary in order to make 
and to maintain that exertion. The effects are too often but too little 

Part Vll.—Of Systems of Moral Philosophy. 

Sec. I. — Of the Questions which ought to be examined in a 
Theory of Moral Sentiments. 

If we examine the most celebrated and remarkable of the different 
theories which have been given concerning the nature and origin of our 
moral sentiments, we shall find that almost aU of them coincide with 
some part or other of that which I have been endeavouring to give an 
account of; and that if every thing which has already been said be 
fully considered, we shall be at no loss to explain what was the view or 
aspect of nature which led each particular author to form his particular 
system. From some one or other of those principles which I have 
j been endeavouring to unfold, every system of morality that ever had 
any reputation in the world has, perhaps, ultimately been derived. As 
they are all of them, in this respect, founded upon natiu-al principles, 
i they are all of them in some measure in the right But as many of them 
are derived from a partial and imperfect view of nature, there are many 
of them too in some respects in the wrong. 

In treating of the principles of morals there are two questions to be 
considered. First, wherein does virtue consist ? Or what is the tone 
of temper, and tenor of conduct, which constitutes the excellent and 
praise-worthy character, the character which is the natural object of 
esteem, honour, and approbation ? And, secondly, by what power or 
faculty in the mind is it, that this character, whatever it be, is recom- 
mended to us ? Or in other words, how and by what means does it 
come to pass, that the mind prefers one tenor of conduct to another, 
denominates the one right and the other wrong ; considers the one as 
the object of approbation, honour, and reward, and the other of blame, 
censure, and punishment ? 

We examine the first question when we consider whether virtue con- 
sists in benevolence, as Dr. Hutcheson imagines ; or in acting suitably 
to the different relations we stand in, as Dr. Clau-k supposes ; or in the 
wise and prudent pursuit of our own real and solid happiness, as has 
been the opinion of others. 

We examine the second question, when we consider, whether the 
virtuous character, whatever it consists in, be recommended to us by 
self-love, which makes us perceive that this character, both in ourselves 
and others, tends most to promote our own private interest ; or by 
reason, which points out to us the difference between one character and 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 237 

another^ in the same maimer as it does that between truth and false- 
hood ; or by a peculiar power of perception, called a moral sense, which 
this virtuous character gratifies and pleases, as the contrary disgusts 
and displeases it ; or last of all, by some other principle in human 
nature, such as a modification of sympathy, or the like* 

I shall begin with considering the systems which have been formed 
concerning the first of these questions, and shall proceed afterwards to 
examine those concerning the second 

Sec II. — Of the different Accounts which have been given 
OF THE Nature of Virtue. 

Introduction. — The different accounts which have been given of the 
nature of virtue, or of the temper of mind which constitutes the excellent 
and praise-worthy character, may be reduced to three different classes. 
According to some, the virtuous temper of mind does not consist in any 
one species of affections, but in the proper government and direction 
of all our affections, which may be either virtuous or vicious according 
to the objects which they pursue, and the degree of vehemence with 
which they pursue them. According to these authors, therefore, virtue 
consists in propriety. 

According to others, virtue consists in the judicious pursuit of our 
own private interest and happiness, or in the proper government and 
direction of those selfish affections which aim solely at this end. In 
the opinion of these, therefore, virtue consists in prudence. 

Another set of authors make virtue consist in those affections only 
which aim at the happiness of others, not in those which aim at our 
own. According to them, therefore, disinterested benevolence is the 
only motive which can stamp upon actions the character of virtue. 

The character of virtue, it is evident, must either be ascribed in- 
differently to aU our affections, when under proper government and 
direction ; or be confined to some one class or division of them. 

The great division of our affections is into the selfish and the bene- 
volent If the character of virtue, therefore, cannot be ascribed indif- 
ferently to all our affections, when under proper government and direc- 
tion, it must be confined either to those which aim directly at our 
own private happiness, or to those which aim directly at that of 
others. If virtue, therefore, does not consist in propriety, it must con- 
sist either in prudence or in benevolence. Besides these three, it is 
scarce possible to imagine that any other account can be given of the 
nature of virtue. I shall endeavour to show hereafter how aU the other 
accounts, which are seemingly different from any of these, coincide at 
bottom with some one or other of them. 


Chap. I. — Of those Systems which make Virtue consist in Propriety. 

According to Plato, to Aristotle, and to Zeno, virtue consists in the 
propriety of conduct, or in the suitableness of the affection from which 
we act to the object which excites it 

I. In the system of Plato (See Plato de Rep. lib. iv.) the soul is 
considered as something like a Mttle state or republic, composed of 
three different faculties or orders. 

Th^ first is the judging faculty, the faculty which determines not only 
what ai£ the proper means for attaining any end, but also what ends 
are fit to be pursued, and what degree of relative value we ought to put 
upon each. This faculty Plato called, as it is very properly called, 
reason, and considered it as what had a right to be the governing prin- 
ciple of the whole. Under this appellation, it is evident, he compre- 
hended not only that faculty by which we judge of truth and falsehood, 
but that by which we judge of the propriety or the impropriety of our 
desires and affections. 

The different passions and appetites, the natural subjects of this 
ruling principle, but which are so apt to rebel against their master, he 
reduced to two different classes or orders. The first consisted of those 
passions, which are; founded in pride and resentment, or in what the 
schoolmen called the irascible part of the soul ; ambition, animosity, 
the love of honour, and the dread of shame, the desire of victory, 
superiority, and revenge ; all those passions, in short, which are sup- 
posed either to rise from, or to denote what, by a metaphor in our lan- 
guage, we commonly call spirit or natural fire. The second consisted 
of those passions which are founded in the love of pleasure, or in what 
the schoolmen called the concupiscible part of the souL It compre- 
hended aU the appetites of the body, the love of ease and of security, 
and of all the sensual gratifications. 

It rarely happens that we break in upon that plan of conduct, which 
the governing principle prescribes, and which in all our cool hours we 
had laid down to ourselves as y/hat was most proper for us to pursue, 
but when prompted by one or other of those two different sets of pas- 
sions ; either by ungovernable ambition and resentment, or by the 
importunate solicitations of present ease and pleasure. But though 
these two orders of passions are so apt to mislead us, they are still 
considered as necessary parts of human nature ; the first having been 
given to defend us against injuries, to assert our rank and dignity in 
the world, to make us aim at what is noble and honourable, and to 
make us distinguish those who act in the same manner; the second, to 
provide for the support and necessities of the body. 

In the strength, acuteness, and perfection of the governing principle 
was placed the essential virtue of prudence, which, according to Plato, 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 239 

consisted m a just and diear discenunent, founded upon general and 
scientific ideas, of the ends which were proper to be pursued, and of the 
means which were proper for attaining them. 

When the first set of passions, those of the irascible part of the soul^ 
had that degree of strength and firmness, which enabled them, under 
the direction of reason, to despise all dangers in the pursuit of what 
W2LS honourable and noble ; it constituted the virtue of fortitude and 
ms^nanimity. This order of passions, according to this system, was 
of a more generous and noble nature than the other. They were con- 
sidered upon many occasions as the auxiliaries of reason, to check and 
restrain the inferior and brutal appetites. We are often angry at oiur- 
selves, it was observed, we often become the objects of our own resent- 
ment and indignation, when the love of pleasure prompts to do what 
we disapprove of; and the irascible part of our nature is in this manner 
called in to assist the rational against the concupiscible. 

When all those three different parts of our nature were in perfect 
concord with one another, when neither the irascible nor concupiscible 
passions ever aimed at any gratification which reason (fid not approve 
of, and when reason never conmianded any thii^, but what these oi 
their own accord were willing to perform : this happy composure, this 
perfect and complete harmony of soul, constituted tluit virtue which in 
their language is expressed by a word which we commonly translate 
temperance, but which might more properly be translated good temper, 
or sobriety and moderation of mind. 

Justice, the last and greatest of the four cardinal virtues, took place, 
accordiag to this system, when each of those three faculties of the 
mind confined itself to its proper office, without attempting to encroach 
upon that of any other; when reason directed and passion obeyed, and 
when each passion performed its proper duty, and exerted itself towards 
its proper object easily and without reluctance, and with that degree of 
force and energy, which was suitable to the value of what it pursued. 
In this consisted that complete virtue, that perfect propriety of con- 
duct, which Plato, after some of the ancient Pythagoreans, has well 
denominated Justice. 

The word, it is to be observed, which expresses justice in the Greek 
language, has several different meanii^ ; and as the correspondent 
word in aU other languages, so far as I know, has the same, there must 
be some natural affinity among those various significations. In one 
sense we are said to do justice to our nei^bour when we abstain from 
doing him any positive harm, and do not directly hurt him, either in 
his person, or in his estate, or in his reputation.. THis is that justice 
which I have treated of above, the observance of which may be extorted 
by force, and the violation of which exposes to punishment. In another 
sense we are said lUot to do justice to our neighbour unless we conceive 
for him all that love, respect, and esteem, which his character, his situa- 


tion, and his connexion with ourselves, render suitable and proper for 
us to feel, and unless we act accordingly. It is in this sense that we 
are said to do injustice to a man of merit who is connected with us, 
though we abstain from htuting him in every respect, if we do not 
exert ourselves to serve him and to place him in that situation in which 
the impartial spectator would be pleased to see him. The first sense of 
the word coincides with what Aristotle and the Schoolmen call com- 
mutative justice, and with what Grotius calls the justUia expletrix^ 
which consists in abstaining from what is another's, and in doing volun- 
tarily whatever we can with propriety be forced to do. The second 
sense of the word coincides with what some have called distributive 
justice,^ and with ihitjustitta aitributrix of Grotius, which consists in 
proper beneficence, in the becoming use of what is our own, and in the 
applying it to those purposes, either of charity or generosity, to which 
it is most suitable, in our situation, that it should be appUed. In this 
sense justice comprehends all the social virtues. There is yet another 
sense in which the word justice is sometimes taken, still more extensive 
than either of the former, though very much akin to the last; and 
which runs too, so far as I know, through all languages. It is in this 
last sense that we are said to be unjust, when we do not seem to value 
any particular object with that degree of esteem, or to pursue it with 
that degree of ardour which to the impartial spectator it may appear to 
deserve or to be naturally fitted for exciting. Thus we are said to do 
injustice to a poem or a picture, when we do not admire them enough, 
and we are said to do them more than justice when we admire them 
too much. In the same manner we are said to do injustice to ourselves 
when we appear not to give sufficient attention to any particular object 
of self-interest. In this last sense, what is called justice means the 
same thing with exact and perfect propriety of conduct and behaviour, 
and comprehends in it, not only the offices of both conmiutative and 
distributive justice, but of every other virtue, of prudence, of fortitude, 
of temperance. It is in this last sense that Plato evidently understands 
what he calls justice, and which, therefore, according to him, compre- 
hends in it the perfection of every sort of virtue. 

Such is the account given by Plato of the nature of virtue, or of that 
temper of mind which is the proper object of praise and approbation. 
It consists, according to him, in that state of mind in which every 
faculty confines itself within its proper sphere without encroachii^ 
upon that of any other, and performs its proper office with that precise 
degree of strength and vigour which belongs to it His account, it is 
evident, coincides in every respect with what we have said above con- 
cerning the propriety of conduct. 

II. Virtue, according to Aristotle (Ethic. Nic. L 2. c 5. et seq. et L 3. 

• The distiibutive justice of Aristotle is somewhat different. It consists in the proper dis- 
tribution of rewards from the public stock of a community. See Aristotle Ethic. Nic. 1. 5. c. v 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 24X 

c. 4. et seq.)} consists in the babit of mediocrity according to right 
reason. Every particular virtue, according to him, lies in a kind of 
middle between two opposite vices, of which the one offends from 
being too much, the other from being too little affected by a particular 
species of objects. Thus the virtue of fortitude or courage lies in the 
middle between the opposite vices of cowardice and of presumptuous 
rashness, of which the one offends from being too much, and the other 
from being too little affected by the objects of fear. Thus too the 
virtue bf frugality lies in a middle between avarice and profusion, of 
which the one consists in an excess, the other in a defect of the proper 
attention to the objects of self-interest Magnanimity, in the same 
manner, lies in a middle between the excess of arrogance and the 
defect of pusillanimity, of which the one consists in too extravagant, 
the other in too weak a sentiment of our own worth and dignity. It is 
unnecessary to observe that this account of virtue corresponds, too, 
pretty exactly with what has been said above concerning the propriety 
and impropriety of conduct 

According to Aristotle (Ethic. Nic. lib. il ch. i, 2, 3, and 4.), indeed, 
virtue did not so much consist in those moderate and right affections, 
as in the habit of this moderation. In order to understand this, it is to 
be observed, that virtue may be considered either as the quality of an 
action, or the quality of a person. Considered as the quality of an 
action, it consists, even according to Aristotle, in the reasonable mode- 
ration of the affection from which the action proceeds, whether this 
disposition be habitual to the person or not Considered as the quality 
of a person, it consists in the habit of this reasonable moderation, in 
its having become the customary and usual disposition of the mind. 
Thus the action which proceeds from an occasional fit of generosity is 
undoubtedly a generous action, but the man who performs it, is not 
necessarily a generous person, because it may be the single action of 
the kind which he ever performed. The motive and disposition of 
heart, from which this action was performed, may have been quite 
just and proper : but as this happy mood seems to have been the effect 
rather of accidental humour than of any thing steady or permanent in 
the character, it can reflect no great honour on the performer. When 
we denominate a character generous or charitable, or virtuous in any 
respect, we mean to signify that the disposition expressed by each of 
those appellations is the usual and customary disposition of the person. 
But single actions of any kind, how proper and suitable soever, are of 
little consequence to show that this is the case. If a single action was 
sufficient to stamp the character of any virtue upon the person who 
performed it, the most worthless of mankind might lay claim to all the 
virtues ; since there is no man who has not, upon some occasions, 
acted with prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. But though 
single actions, how laudable soever, reflect very little praise upon the 


person who perfonns them, a single vickxiis action perfonned by one 
whose conduct is usually pretty r^ular, greatly diminishes and somt- 
times destroys altogether our opinion of his virtue* A single action of 
this kind sufficiently shows that his habits are not perfect, and that be 
is less to be depended upon, than, from the usual train of his behaviour, 
we might have been apt to imagine. 

Aristotle too (Mag. Mor. lib. L ch. i.) when he made virtue to consist 
in practical habits, had it probably in his view to oppose the doctrine of 
Plato, who seems to have been of opinion that just sentimeirts and 
reasonable judgments concerning what was fit to be done or to be 
avoided, were alone sufficient to constitute the most perfect virtae. 
Virtue, according to Plato, might be considered as a species of science, 
and no man, he thought, could see clearly and demonstratively what 
was right and what was wrong, and not act accordingly. Passion 
might make us act contrary to doubtful and uncertain opinions, not to 
plain and evident judgments. Aristotle, on the contrary, was of o^on 
that no conviction of the understanding was capable of getting the 
better of inveterate habits, and that our good morals arose not from 
knowledge but from action. 

III. According to Zeno,* the founder of the Stoical doctrine, every 
animal was by nature recommended to its own care, and was endowed 
with the principle of self-love, that it might endeavour to preserve, not 
only its existence, but all the different parts of its nature, in the best 
and most perfect state of which they were capable. 

The self-love of man embraced, if I may say so, his body and all its 
different members, his mind and all its different faculties and powers, 
and desired the preservation and maintenance of them all in their best 
and most perfect conditioiL Whatever tended to support this state of 
existence was, therefore, by nature pointed out to him as fit to be 
chosen ; and whatever tended to destroy it, as fit to. be. rejected Thus 
health, strength, agility, and ease of body as well as the external con- 
veniences which could promote these ; wealth, power, honours, the 
respect and esteem of those we live with ; were naturally pointed out 
to us as things eligible, and of which the possession was preferable to 
the want On the other hand, sickness, infirmity, unwieldiness, pain of 
body, as weU as all the external inconveniences which tend to occasion 
or bring on any of them ; poverty, the want of authority, the contempt 
or hatred of those we Uve with ; were, in the same manner, pointed out 
to us as things to be shunned and avoided In each of those two 
opposite classes of objects, there were some which appeared to be more 
the objects either of choice or reijection, than others in the same class. 
Thus, in the first class, health appeared evidently preferable to strength, 
and strength to agility ; reputation to power, and power to riches. And 
thus too, in the second class, sickness was more to be avoided than 

* See Cicero de finibus, lib. ii|. ; also Diogenes Laertius in Zenone, lib. -m. segment 84. 

smith's th£Ory of moral sentiments. a43 

unwieldiness of body, ignominy ttian poverty, and poverty than the 
loss of power. Virt;ue and the p|x>priety of conduct consisted in choosr 
ing and rejecting all different objects and circumstances according as 
they were by nature rendered more or leas the objects of choice or 
rejection; in selecting always from among the several objects of choice 
presented to us, that; which must be chosen, when we could not obtain 
them all ; and in selecting, too, out of the several objects of rejection 
offered to us, that which was least to be avoided, when it was not in our 
power to avoid them all By choosing and rejecting with this just and 
accurate discernment, by thus bestowing upon every object the precise 
d^^e of attention it deserved, s^cording to the place which it held in 
this natural scale of thiAgs, we maintained, acccording to the Stoics, 
that perfect rectitude of conduct which constituted the essence of 
virtue. This was what they called to live consistently, to live according 
to nature, and to obey those laws and directions which nature, or the 
Author of nature, had prescribed for our conduct 

So far the Stoical idea of propriety and virtue is not very different 
from that of Aristotle and the anpient Peripatetics. 

Among those primary objects which nature had recommended to us 
as eligible, was the prosperity of our family, of our relations, of our 
friends, of our country, of mankind, and of the universe in general 
Nature too, had taught us, that as the prosperity of two was preferable 
to that of one, that of many, or of all, must be infinitely more so. 
That we ourselves were but one, and that consequently wherever our 
prosperity was inconsistent with that, either of Uie whole, or of any 
considerable part of the whole, it ought, even in our own choice, to 
yield to what was so vastly preferable. As. all the events in this world 
were conducted by the providence of a wise, powerful, and good God, 
we n^ght be assured that whatever ha^^ened tended to the prosperity 
and perfeption of the whole. If we ourselves, therefore, were in 
poverty, in sickness, or in any other calamity, we ought, first of all, to 
use our utmost endeavours, so far as justice and our duty to others will 
allow, to rescue ourselves from this disagreeable circumstance. But if, 
after all we could do, we found this impossible, we ought to rest satis* 
fied that the order and perfection of the universe required that we 
should in the mean time continye in this situation. And as the pros- 
perity of the whole should, even to us, appear preferable to so insigni- 
ficant 9, part as ourselves, our situation, whatever it was, ought from 
that moment to become the object of our liking, if we would maintain 
that complete propriety and rectitude of sentiment and conduct in 
which consisted the perfection of our nature. If, indeed, any oppor- 
tunity of extricating ourselves should offer, it became our duty to 
embrace it The order of the universe, it was evident, no longer 
required our continuance in this situation, and the great Director of 
the world plamly called upon us to leave it, by so clearly pointing out 


the road ^vhich we were to follow. It was the same case with the 
adversity of our relations, our friends, our country. If, without violat- 
ing any more sacred obligation, it wa3 in our power to prevent or put 
an end to their calamity, it undoubtedly was our duty to do so. The 
propriety of action, the rule which Jupiter had given us for the direc- 
tion of our conduct, evidently required this of us. But if it was alto- 
gether out of our power to do either, we ought then to consider this 
event as the most fortunate which could possibly have happened : be- 
cause we might be assured that it tended most to the prosperity and 
order of the whole, which was that we ourselves, if we were wise and 
equitable, ought most of all to desire. It was our own final interest 
considered as a part of that whole, of which the prosperity ought to be, 
not only the principal, but the sole object of our desire. 
* In what sense,' says Epictetus, * are some things said to be accord- 

* ing to our nature, and others contrary to it ? It is in that sense in 
' which we consider ourselves as separated and detached from all other 
' things. For thus it may be said to be according to the nature of the 
' foot to be always clean. But if you consider it as a foot, and not as 
' something detached from the rest of the body, it must behove it some- 

* times to trample in the dirt, and sometimes to tread upon thorns, and 
*, sometimes, too, to be cut off for the sake of the whole body ; and if it 

* refuses this, it is no longer a foot Thus, too, ought we to conceive 

* with regard to ourselves. What are you ? A man. If you consider 
' yourself as something separated and detached, it is agreeable to your 
' nature to live to old age, to be rich, to be in health. But if you con- 

* sider yourself as a man, and as a part of a whole, upon account of that 

* whole, it will behove you sometimes to be in sickness, sometimes to be 
' exposed to the inconveniency of a sea voyage, sometimes to be in 

* want, and at last perhaps to die before your time. Why then do you 

* complain ? Do not you know that by doing so, as the foot ceases to 

* be a foot, so you cease to be man ?' 

A wise man never complains of the destiny of Providence, nor thinks 
the universe in confusion when he is out of order. He does not look 
upon himself as a whole, separated and detached from every other part 
of nature, to be taken care of by itself and for itself. He regards him- 
self in the Ught in which he imagines the great genius of human nature, 
and of the world, regards hirru He enters, if I may say so, into the 
sentiments of that divine Being, and considers himself as an atom, a 
particle, of an inmiense and infinite system, which must and ought to 
be disposed of according to the conveniency of the whole. Assured of 
the wisdom which directs all the events of human life, whatever lot be- 
falls him, he accepts it with joy, satisfied that, if he had known all the 
coimections and dependencies of the different parts of the universe, it 
is the very lot which he himself would have wished for. If it is life, he 
is contented to live ; and if it is death, as nature must have no further 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 245 

occasion for his presence here, he willingly goes where he is appointed. 
I accept, said 'a cynical philosopher, whose doctrines were in this re- 
spect the same as those of the Stoics, I accept, with equal joy and satis- 
faction, whatever fortune can befall me. Riches or poverty, pleasure 
Of pain, health or sickness, all is alike : nor would I desire that the 
gods shotdd in any respect change my destination. If I was to ask of 
them anything beyond what their bounty has already bestowed, it 
should be that they would inform me beforehand what it was their 
pleasure should be done with me, that I might of my own accord place 
myself in this situation, and demonstrate the cheerfulness with which I 
embraced their allotment. If I am going to sail, says Epictetus, I 
choose the best ship and the best pilot, and I wait for the fairest 
weather that my circumstances and duty will allow. Prudence and 
propriety, the principles which the gods have given me for the direction 
of my conduct, require this of me ; but they require no more : and if, 
notwithstanding, a storm arises, which neither the strength of the 
vessel nor the skill of the pilot are likely to withstand, I give myself no 
trouble about the consequence. All that I had to do is done already. 
The directors of my conduct never command me to be miserable, to be 
anxious, desponding, or afraid. Whether we are to be drowned, or to 
come to a harbour, is the business of Jupiter, not mine. I leave it en- 
tirely to his determination, nor ever break my rest with considering 
which way he is likely to decide it, but receive whatever may come 
with equal indifference and security. 

From this perfect confidence in that benevolent wisdom which 
governs the universe, and from this entire resignation to whatever order 
that wisdom might think proper to estabhsh, it necessarily followed, 
that to the Stoical wise man, all the events of human life must be in a 
great measure indifferent His happiness consisted altogether, first, in 
the contemplation of the happiness and perfection of the great system 
of the universe, of the good government of the great republic of gods 
and men, of all rational and sensible beings ; and, secondly, in dis- 
charging his duty, in acting properly in the affairs of this great republic 
whatever little part that wisdom had assigned to him. The propriety 
or impropriety of his endeavours might be of great consequence to him. 
.Their success or disappointment could be of none at all ; could excite 
no passionate joy or sorrow, no passionate desire or aversion. If he 
preferred some events to others, if some situations were the objects of 
his choice and others of his rejection, it was not because he regarded 
the one as in themselves in any respect better than the other, or thought 
that his own happiness would be more complete in what is called the 
fortunate than in what is regarded as the distressful situation ; but be- 
cause the propriety of action, the rule which the gods had given him 
for the direction of his conduct, required him to choose and reject in 
this manner. All his affections were absorbed and swallowed up in 


two great affections ; in thkt for the discharge of his own duty, and in 
thatforthegreatest possible happiness of all rational and sensible beings. 
For the gratification of this latter affection, he rested with the most per- 
fect security upon the wisdom and power of the great Superintendent 
of the universe. His sole anxiety was about the gratification of tlfe 
former ; not about the event, but about the propriety of his own en- 
deavours. Whatever the event might be, he trusted to a superior 
power and wisdom for turning it to promote that great end which he 
himself was most desirous of promoting. 

This propriety of choosing and rejecting, though originally pointed 
out to us, and as it were recommended and introduced to our acquaint- 
ance by the things, and for the sake of the things, chosen and rejected ; 
yet when we had once become thoroughly acquainted with it, the order, 
the grace, the beauty which we discerned in this conduct, the happi- 
ness which we felt resulted from it, necessarily appeared to us of much 
greater value than the actual obtaining of all the different objects of 
choice, or the actual avoiding of all those of rejection. From the ob- 
servation of this propriety arose the happiness and the glory ; from the 
neglect of it, the misery and the disgrace of human nature. 

But to a wise man, to one whose passions were brought tmder perfect 
subjection to the ruling principles of his nature, the exact observation 
of this propriety was equally easy upon all occasions. Was he in pros- 
perity, he returned thanks to Jupiter for having joined him with cir- 
cumstances which were easily mastered, and in which there was little 
temptation to do wrong. Was he in adversity, he equally returned 
thanks to the director of this spectacle of human life, for having op- 
posed to him a vigorous athlete, over whom, though the contest was 
likely to be more violent, the victory was more glorious, and equally 
certain. Can there be any shame in that distress which is brought 
upon us without any fault of our own, and in which we behave with 
perfect propriety ? There can, therefore, be no evil, but, on the con- 
trary, the greatest good and advantage. A braveman exults in those 
dangers in which, from no rashness of his own, his fortune has involved 
him. They afford an opportunity of exercising that heroic intrepidity, 
whose exertion gives the exalted delight which flows from the conscious- 
ness of superior propriety and deserved admiration. One who is master* 
of all his exercises has no aversion to measure his strength and activity 
with the strongest And, in the same manner, one who is master of all his 
passions, does not dread any circumstance in which the Superintendent 
of the universe may think proper to place him. The bounty o! that 
divine Being has provided him with virtues which render him superior 
to every situation. If it is pleasure, he has temperance to refrain from 
it ; if it is pain, he has constancy to bear it ; if it is danger or death, 
he has magnanimity and fortitude to despise it. The events of human 
Ufe can never find him unprepared, or at a loss how to nudntain that 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. «47 

propriety of sentiment and conduct which, in his own apprehension, 
constitutes at once his glory and his happiness. 

Human life the Stoics appear to have considered as a game of great 
skill ; in which, however, there was a mixture of chance, or of what is 
vulgariy understood to be chance. In such games die stake is com- 
monly a trifle, and the whole pleasure of the game arises from playing 
weH, from plajdng fairly, and playing sldlfully. If notwithstanding all 
his skiU, however, the good player should, by the influence of chance, 
happen to lose, the loss ought to be a matter, rather of merriment, than 
of serious sorrow. He has made no false stroke ; he has done nothing 
which he ought to be ashamed of; he has enjoyed completely the whole 
pleasure of the game. If, on the contrary, the bad player notwith- 
standing an his blunders, should, in the same manner, happen to win, 
his success can give him but little satisfaction. He is mortified by the 
remenibrance of all the faults which he conunitted. Even during the 
play he can enjoy no part of the pleasure which it is capable of afford- 
ing. From ignorance of the rules of the game, fear and doubt and 
hesitation are the disagreeable sentiments that precede almost every 
stroke which he plays ; and when he has played it, the mortification of 
finding it a gross blunder, commonly completes theunpleasing circle of 
his sensations. Human life, with all the advantages which can possi- 
bly attend it, ought, according to the Stoics, to be regarded but as a 
mere twopenny stake ; a matter by far too insignificant to merit any 
anxious concern. Our only anxious concern ought to be, not about the 
stake, but about the proper method of playing. If we placed our 
happiness in winning the stake, we placed it in what depended upon 
causes beyond our power and out of our direction. We necessarily 
exposed ourselves to perpetual fear and uneasiness, and frequently to 
grievous and mortifying disappointments. If we placed it in playing 
well, in playing fairly, in playing wisely and skilfully ; in the propriety 
of our own conduct in short ; we placed it in what, by proper discipline, 
education, and attention, might be ahogether in our own power, and 
under our own direction. Our happiness was perfectiy secure, and be- 
yond the reach of fortune. ^The event of our actions, if it was out of 
our power, was equally out of our concern, and 'we could never feel 
either fear or anxiety about it ; nor ever suffer any grievous, or even 
any serious disappointment 

Human life itself, as well as every different advantage or disad- 
vantage which can attend it, might, they said, according to different 
circumstances, be the proper object either of our choice or of our 
rejection. If, in our actual situation, there were more circumstances 
agreeable to nature than contrary to it; more circumstances which 
were the objects of choice than of rejection; life, in this case, was, 
upon the whole, the proper object of choice, and the propriety of con- 
duct required that we should remain in it If, on the other hand, there 


were, in our actual situation, without any probable hope of amendment, 
more circumstances contrary to nature than agreeable to it ; more cir- 
cumstances which were the objects of rejection than of choice; life 
itself, in this case, became, to a wise man, the object of rejection, and 
he was not only at liberty to remove out of it, but the propriety of con- 
duct, the rule which the gods had given him for the direction of his 
conduct, required him to do so. I am ordered, says Epictetus, not to 
dwell at Nicopolis. I do not dwell there. I am ordered not to dwell 
at Athens. I do not dwell at Athens. I am ordered not to dwell in 
Rome. I do not dwell in Rome. I am ordered to dwell in the little 
and rocky island of Gyarse. I go and dwell there. But the house 
smokes in Gyarae. If the smoke is moderate, I will bear it, and stay 
there. If it is excessive, I will go to a house from whence no tyrant 
can remove me. I keep in mind always that the door is open, that I 
can walk out when I please, and retire to that hospitable house which 
is at all times open to all the world; for beyond my undermost gar- 
ment, beyond my body, no man living has any power over me. If your 
situation is upon the whole disagreeable; if your house smokes too 
much for you, said the Stoics, walk forth by all means. But walk fordi 
without repining; without murmuring or complaining. Walk fordi 
calm, contented, rejoicing, returning thanks to the gods, who, from 
their infinite bounty, have opened the safe and quiet harbour of death, 
at all times ready to receive us from the stormy ocean of human life; 
who have prepared this sacred, this inviolable, this great asylum, 
always open, always accessible ; altogether beyond the reach of human 
rage and injustice; and large enough to contain both all those who 
wish, and all those who do not wish to retire to it: an asylum which 
takes away from every man every pretence of complaining, or even of 
fancying tiiat there can be any evil in human life, except such as he 
may suffer from his own folly and weakness. 

The Stoics, in the few fragments of their philosophy which have 
come down to us, sometimes talk of leaving life with a gaiety, and even 
with a levity, which, were we to consider those passages by themselves, 
might induce us to beheve that they imagined we could with propriety 
leave it whenever we had a mind, wantonly and capriciously, upon the 
slightest disgust or uneasiness. ' When you sup with such a person, 
says Epictetus, ' you complain of the long stories which he tells you 

* about his Mysian wars. " Now my friend," says he, " having told you 
* " how I took possession of an eminence at such a place, I will tell you 
* " how I was besieged in such another place." But if you have a mind 
'not to be troubled with his long stories, do not accept of his supper. 

* If you accept of his supper, you have not the least pretence to com- 
' plain of his long stories. It is the same case with what you call the 
' evils of human hfe. Never complain of that of which it is at all times 

* in your power to rid yourself.' Notwithstanding this gaiety and even 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 249 

levity of expression, however, the alternative of leaving life, or of re- 
maining in it, was, according to the Stoics, a matter of the most serious 
and important deliberation. We ought never to leave it till we were 
distinctly called upon to do so by that superintending Power which 
had originally placed us in it But we were to consider ourselves as 
<:alled upon to do so, not merely at the appointed and unavoidable 
teim of human life. Whenever the providence of that superintending 
Power had rendered our condition in life upon the whole the proper 
object rather of rejection than of choice; the great rule which he had. 
given us for the direction of our conduct, then required us to leave it 
We might then be said to hear the awful and benevolent voice of that 
divine Being distinctly calling upon us to do so. 

It was upon this account that, according to the Stoics, it might be 
the duty of a wise man to remove out of life though he was perfectly 
happy; while, on the contrary, it might be the duty of a weak man to 
remain in it, though he was necessarily miserable. If, in the situation 
of the wise man, there were more circumstances which were the natural 
objects of rejection than of choice, the whole situation became the 
object of rejection, and the rule which the gods had given him for the 
direction of his conduct, required that he should remove out of it as 
speedily as particular circumstances might render convenient He 
was, however, perfectly happy even during the time that he might 
think proper to remain in it He had placed his happiness, not in 
obtaining the objects of his choice, or in avoiding those of his rejection; 
but in always choosing and rejecting with exact propriety; not in the 
success, but in the fitness of his endeavours and exertions. If, in the 
situation of the ,weak man, on the contrary, there were more circum- 
stances which were the natural objects of choice than of rejection; his 
whole situation became the proper object of choice, and it was his duty 
to remain in it He was unhappy, however, fix)m not knowing how to 
use those circumstances. Let his cards be ever so good, he did not 
know how to play them, and could enjoy no sort of real satisfaction, 
either in the progress, or in the event of the game, in whatever manner 
it might happen to turn out (Cicero de finibus, Hb. 3. c 13.} 

The propriety, upon some occasions, of voluntary death, though it 
was, perhaps, more insisted upon by the Stoics, than by any other sect 
of ancient philosophers, was, however, a doctrine common to them all, 
even to the peaceable and indolent Epicureans. During the age in 
which flourished the founders of all the principal sects of ancient philo- 
sophy; during the Pdoponnesian war and for many years after its 
conclusion, all the different republics of Greece were, at home, almost 
always distracted by the most furious factions ; and abroad, involved 
in the most, sanguinary wars, in which each fought, not merely for 
superiority or dominion, but either completely to extirpate all its 
enemies, or, what was not less cruel, to reduce them into the vilest o( 



^ States, tliat of jdcntaestic slaveryy^todto sell them, man, woman, mi 
cchild^ like so many herds of cattle, to the highest bidder vx the market 
The smallness of the greater part of those states, too, rendered it, to 
each of them, no very improbable event, that Jt might itself fell into 
that very calamity which it had so frequently, either^ perhaps, actually 
inflicted, or at least attempted to inflict vpon some of Us neighbours. 
In this disorderly state of things, the most perfect innocence, jomed to 
both the highest rank and .4he i^eatest public services, could give no 
security to any man that^ even at home and among his own relations 
jKnd fdilow-citizens, he was not, at some time or another, from the pre- 
:valence of some hostile and furious faction, to be cond^omed to the 
most cruel and ignominious punishment. If he was taken prisoner in 
war, or if the cky of which he was .a member was conquered, he was 
^pQs^, if po^ible, to stm. greater injuries and insults. But every man 
(miturally, or ratiier necessarily, familiarises his invagination with the 
.distresses to which be foresiecs that his situation may frequently eitposc 
hinL It is impossible that ji.. sailor should not frequently think of 
storms and shipwrecks smd fbundadng at sea, and of how he himself 
is likely both to feel and to act upon sudi occasions. It was im- 
possible, in the same mianner, jthat a Grecian patriot or hero should 
not familiarize his imagination with all the different calan^ities to which 
he was sensible his situation nmst frequently, or rather constantly, 
expose him. As an Ameripan savage prepares his death-song, and 
considers how he should act when he has fallen into the hands of his 
enemies, and is by them put to death in the most lingering tortures, 
and amidst the insults and derision of all the spectators; so a Grecian 
patriot or hero could not avoid frequently employing his thoughts in 
considering what be ought both to suffer and to do in banishment, in 
-captivity, when reduced to slavery, "^hen put to the torture, when 
thought to the scaffold. 3ut the philosophers of all the different sects 
very justly represented vartue; that is, wise, just, firm and temperate 
conduct;, not only as the most probable, but as the certain and in- 
fallible rpad to happiness even in this life. This conduct, however, 
could not always exempt, and might even sometimes expose the person 
yfho followed it to all the calamities which were incident to that un- 
settled situation of public affairs. They endeavoured, therefore, to 
show that happiness was either altogether, or at least in a great mea* 
sure, independent of fortune; the Stoics, that it was so altc^therj 
the Academic and Peripatetic philosophers, that it was so in a great 
measure. Wise, prudent, and good conduct was, in the first plaice, the 
conduct most likely to ensure success in every species of undertaking; 
and secondly, though it should fail of success, yet the mind was not 
left without consolation. The virtuous man might still enjoy the com- 
pkte approbation of his own breast; and might still feel that, how 
untoward soever things might be without, all was calm and peace and 


concord within. He might generally comfort himself, too, with the 
assurance that he possessed the love and esteem of every intelligent 
and impartial spectator, who could not fail both to admire his conduct, 
and to regret his misfortune. 

Those philosophers endeavoured, at the same time, to show, that 
the greatest misfortunes to which human life was liable, might be sup- 
ported more easily than was commonly imagined. They endeavoured 
to point out the comforts which a man might still enjoy when reduced 
to poverty, when driven into banislunent, when exposed to the injustice 
of popular clamour, when labouring under blindness,, under deafness, 
in the extremity of old age, upon the approach of deatib. They pointed 
Qut, too, the considerations which might contribute to support his con- 
stancy under the agonies of pain and even of torture, in sickness, in. 
sorrow for the loss of children, for the death of Mends and relations, 
etc. The few fragments which have come down to us of what the 
ancient philosophers had written upon these subjects, form, perhaps, 
one of the most instructive, as well as one of the most interesting 
remains of antiquity. The spirit and manhood of their doctrines make 
a wonderful contrast with the desponding, plaintive, and whining tone 
of some modem systems. ' 

But while those ancient philosophers endeavoured in this manner to 
suggest every consideration which could, as Milton says, arm the 
obdured breast with stubborn patience, as with triple steel ; they, at 
the same time, laboured above all to convince their followers that there 
neither was nor could be any evil in death; and that, if their situation 
becanie at any time too hard for their constancy to support, the remedy 
was at hand, the door was open, and they might,, without fear, walk out 
when they pleased. If there was no world beyond the present, death, 
they said, could be no evil; and if there was another world, the gods. 
must likewise be in that other, and a just man could fear no evil while 
under their protection. Those philosophers, in short, prepared a death- 
song^, if I may say so, which the Grecian patriots and heroes might- 
make use of upon the proper occasions ; and, of all the different sects, 
the Stoics, I think it must be acknowledged, had prepared by far the- 
most animated and most spirited song. 

Suicide, however, never seems to have been very common among the 
Greeks. Excepting. Cleomenes, I cannot at present recollect any very 
illustrious either patriot or hero of Greece, who died by his own hand. 
The death of Aristomenes is as much, beyond the period of true history 
as that of Ajax. The common story of the death of Themistocles, 
though within that period, bears upon its face all the marks of a most 
romantic fable. Of all thd Greek heroes whose lives have been written 
by Plutarch, Cleomenes appears to have been the only one who perished 
in this manner. Theramines, Socrates, and Phocion,who certainly did 
not ^«rant courage, suffered themselves to be sent to prison, and sub- 



mitted patiently to that death to which the injustice of their fellow- 
citizens had condemned them. The brave Eumenes allowed himself 
to be delivered up, by his own mutinous soldiers, to his enemy Anti- 
gonus, and was starved to death, without attempting any violence. The 
gallant PhilopoenSen suffered himself to be taken prisoner by the Mes- 
senians, was thrown into a dungeon, and was supposed to have been 
privately poisoned. Several of the philosophers, indeed, are said to 
have died in this manner; but their lives have been so very foolishly 
written, that very httle credit is due to the greater part of the tales 
which are told of them. Three different accounts have been given of 
the death of Zeno the Stoic. One is, that after enjoying, for ninety- 
eight years, the most perfect state of health, he happened, in going out 
of his school, to fall; and though he suffered no other damage than 
that of breaking or dislocating one of his fingers, he struck the ground 
with his hand, and, in the words of the Niobe of Euripides, said, / 
come^ why doest thou call met and inmiediately went home and hanged 
himself. At that great age, one should think, he might have had a 
little more patience. Another account is, that, at the same age, and m 
consequence of a like accident, he starved himself to death. The third 
account is, that, at seventy-two years of age, he died in the natural way ; 
by far the most probable account of the three, and supported too by the 
authority of a cotemporary, who must have had every opportunity of 
being well-informed ; of Persaeus, originally the slave, and afterwards 
the friend and disciple of Zeno. The first account is given by Apol- 
lonius of Tyre, who flourished about the time of Augustus Caesar, 
between two and three hundred years after the death of Zeno. I know 
not who is the author of the second account Apollonius, who was 
himself a Stoic, had probably thought it would do honour to the founder 
of a sect which talked so much about voluntary death, to die in this 
manner by his own hand. Men of letters, though, after their death, 
tiiey are frequently more talked of than the greatest princes or states- 
men of their times, are generally, during their life, so obscure and 
insignificant that their adventures are seldom recorded by cotemporary 
historians. Those of after-ages, in order to satisfy the public curiosity, 
and having no authentic documents either to support or to contradict 
their narratives, seem frequently to have fashioned them according to 
their own fancy; and almost always with a great mixture of the mar- 
vellous. In this particular case the marvellous, though supported by 
no authority, seems to have prevailed over the probable, though sup- 
ported by the best Diogenes Laertius plainly gives the preference to 
the story of Apollonius. Lucian and Lactantius appear both to have 
given credit to that of the great age and of the violent death. 

This fashion of voluntary death appears to have been much more 
prevalent among the proud Romans, than it ever was among the lively, 
ingenious, and accoomiodating Greeks. Even among the Romans, the 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 2S3 

fashion seems not to have been established in the early and, what are 
called, the virtuous ages of the republic. The common story of the 
death of Regulus, though probably a fable, could never have been 
invented, had it been supposed that any dishonour could fall upon that 
hero, from patiently submitting to the tortures which the Carthaginians 
are said to have inflicted upon him. In the later ages of the republic, 
some dishonour, I apprehend, would have attended this submission. 
In the different civil wars which preceded the fall of the commonwealth, 
many of the eminent men of all the contending parties chose rather to 
perish by their own hands, than to fall into those of their enemies. The 
death of Cato, celebrated by Cicero, and censured by Caesar, and be- 
come the subject of a very serious controversy between, perhaps, the 
two most illustrious advocates that the world had ever beheld, stamped 
a character of splendour upon this method of dying which it seems to 
have retained for several ages after. The eloquence of Cicero was 
superior to that of Caesar. The admiring prevailed greatly over the 
censuring party, and the lovers of liberty, for many ages afterwards, 
looked up to Cato as to the most venerable martyr of the republican 
party. The head of a party, the Cardinal de Retz observes, may do 
what he pleases ; as long as he retains the confidence of his own friends, 
he can never do wrong ; a maxim of which his eminence had himself, 
upon several occasions, an opportunity of experiencing the truth. Cato, 
it seems, joined to his other virtues that of an excellent bottle compa- 
nion. His enemies accused him of drunkenness, but, says Seneca, who- 
ever objected this vice to Cato, will find it easier to prove that drunken- 
ness is a virtue, than that Cato could be addicted to any vice. 

Under the Emperors this method of dying seems to have been, for a 
long time, perfectly fashionable. In the epistles of Pliny we find an 
account of several persons who chose to die in this manner, rather from 
vanity and ostentation, it would seem, than from what would appear, 
even to a sober and judicious Stoic, any proper or necessary reason. 
Even the ladies, who are seldom behind in following the fashion, seem 
frequently to have chosen, most unnecessarily, to die in this manner ; 
and, like the ladies in Bengal, to accompany, upon some occasions, 
their husbands to the tomb. The prevalence of this fashion certainly 
occasioned many deaths which would not otherwise have happened. 
All the havoc, however, which this, perhaps the highest exertion of 
human vanity and impertinence, could occasion, would, probably, at no 
time, be very great 

The principle of suicide, the principle which would teach us, upon 
some occasions, to consider that violent action as an object of applause 
and approbation, seems to be altogether a refinement of philosophy. 
Nature, in her sound and healthful state, seems never to prompt us to 
suicide. There is, indeed, a species of melancholy (a disease to which 
human nature, among its other calamities, is unhappily subject) which 


seems to be accompanied with, what one tnay call, an irresistible 
appetite for self-destruction. In circumstances often of the highest 
external prosperity, and sometimes too, in spite even of the most serious 
and deeply impressed sentiments of religion, this disease has frequentiy 
been known to drive its wretched victims to this fatal extremity. The 
unfortunate persons who perish in this miserable manner, are flie prO" 
per objects, not of censure, but of commiseration. To attempt to 
punish them, when they are beyond the reach of all human punish- 
ment, is not more absurd than it is unjust That punishment can fall 
only on their surviving friends and relations, who are always perfectly 
innocent, and to whom the loss of their friend, in this disgraceful 
manner, must always be alone a very heavy calamity. Nature, in her 
sound and healthful state, prompts us to avoid distress upon aJl occa- 
sions ; upon many occasions to defend ourselves against it, though at 
the hazard, or even with the certainty of perishing in that defence. 
But, when we have neither been able to defend ourselves from it, nor 
have perished in that defence, no natural principle, no regard to the 
approbation of the supposed impartial spectator, to the judgment of the 
man within the breast, seems to call upon us to escape from it by 
destroying ourselves. It is only the consciousness of our own weak- 
ness, of our own incapacity to support the calamity with proper man- 
hood and firmness, which can drive us to this resolution. I do not 
remember to have^ either read or heard of any American savage, who, 
upon being taken prisoner by some hostile tribe, put himself to death, 
in Of dier to avoid being afterwards put to death in torture, and amidst 
the insults and mockery of his enemies. He places his glory in sup- 
porting those torments with manhood, and in retorting those insults 
with tenfold contempt and derision. 

This contempt of life and death, however, and, at the same time, the 
most entire submission to the orderof Providence ; the most complete 
contentment with every event which the current of human affairs could 
possibly cast up, may be considered as the two fundamental doctrines 
upon which rested the whole fabric of Stoical morality. The indepen- 
dent and spirited, but often harsh Epictetus, may be considered as the 
great apostle of the furst of those doctrines : the mild, the humane, the 
benevolent Antoninus, of the second. 

The emancipated slave of Epaphroditus, who, in his youth, had been 
subjected to the insolence of a brutal master, who, in his riper years, 
was, by the jealousy and caprice of Domitian, banished from Rome and 
Athens, and obliged to dwell at Nicopolis, and who, by the same tyrant, 
might expect every moment to be sent to Gyarae, or, perhaps, to be put to 
death ; could preserve his own tranquillity only by fostering in his mind 
the most sovereign contempt of hiunan life. He never exults so much, 
accordingly ; his eloquence is never so animated as when he represents 
the futility and nothingness of all its pleasures and all its pains. 

smith's theory of moral sbntimxnts. 255 

The good-natured emperor, the absolute sovereign of the whole civil- 
ized part of the world, who certainly had no peculiar reason to com- 
plain of his own allotment, delights in expressing his contentment with 
the ordinary course of things, and in pointing out beauties even in 
those parts of it where vulgar observers are not apt to «ee any* There 
is a propriety and even an engaging grftce, he obseirveS) in old age as 
well as in youth ; and the weakness and decrepitude of the o«t state I 
are as suitable to nature as the bloom and vigottt* of the otiher. Death, ■• 
too, is just as proper a termination of old age, as youth is of childhood^ 
or manhood of youth. 'As we frequently say,' he remarks upon another V 
occasion, 'that the physician has ordered to such a man to ride on 
'horseback, or to use the cold bath, or to walk barefooted ; so ought 
'we to say, that Nature, the great conductor smd physician of the uni- 
' verse, has ordered to such a man a disease, or the amputaition of a 
'limb, or the losis of a child.^ By the prescriptions of ordinary physic 
cians the patient swallows many a bitter potion, undergoes many a 
painful operation. From the very uncertain hope, however, that health 
may be the consequence, he gladly submits to alL The harshest pre- 
scriptions of the great Physician of nature, the patient may, in the 
same manner, hope will contribute to his own health, to his own final 
prosperity and happiness : and he may be perfectly assured that they 
not only contribute, but are indispensably necessary to the health, to 
the prosperity and happiness of the universe, to the fUrdierance and 
advancement of the great plan of Jupiter. Had they not been so, the 
universe would never have produced them ; its all-wise Architect and 
Conductor would never have suffered them to happen^ As all, even 
the smallest of the co-existent parts of the universe, are exactly fitted 
to one another, and all contribute to compose one immense and con- 
nected system, so all, even apparently the most insignificant of the 
successive events which follow one another, make parts, and necessary 
parts, of that great chain of causes and effects which had no beginning, 
and which will have no end ; and which, as they all necessarily result 
from the original arrangement and contrivance of the whole ; so they 
are all essentially necessary, not only to its prosperity, but to its con* 
tinuance and preservation. Whoever does not cordially embrace what- 
ever befalls him, whoever is sorry that it has befallen him, whoever 
wishes that it had not befallen him, wishes, so far as in him lies, to 
stop the motion of the universe, to break that great chain of succession^ 
by the {M-ogress of which that system can alone be continued and pre- 
served, and, for some little conveniency of his own, to disorder and 
discompose the whole machine Of the workL 'O world,' says he, in 
another place, 'all things are suitable to me which are suitable to thee. 
' Nothing is too early or too late to me which is seasonable for thee. 
' All is fruit to me which thy seasons bring forth. Ftom thee are all 
' things *f m thee are all things ; for thee s^e all things. One man 


*says, O beloved city of Cecrops. Wflt not thou say, O bdowd 
*cityof God?' 

From these very sublime doctrines the Stoics, or at least some of the 
Stoics, attempted to deduce all their paradoxes. 

The Stoical wise man endeavoured to enter into the views of the 
great Superintendent of the universe, and to see things in the same 
light in which that divine Being beheld them. But, to the great 
Superintendent of the universe, all the different events which the 
course of his providence may bring forth, what to us appear the 
smallest and the greatest, the bursting of a bubble, as Mr. Pope says, 
and that of a world, for example, were perfectly equal, were equally 
parts of that great chain which he had predestined from all eternity, 
were equally the effects of the same unerring wisdom, of the same 
universal and boundless benevolence. To the Stoical wise man, in the 
same manner, all those different events were perfectly equaL In the 
course of t^ose events, indeed, a little department, in which he had 
himself some little management and direction, had been assigned to 
him. In this department he endeavoured to act as properly as he 
cotdd, and to conduct himself according to those orders which, he 
understood, had been prescribed to him. But he took no anxious or 
passionate concern either in the success, or in the disappointment of 
his own most faithful endeavours. The highest prosperity and the 
total destruction of that little department, of that Jittle system which 
had been in some measure conmiitted to his charge, were perfectly 
indifferent to hinu If those events had depended upon him, he would 
have chosen the one, and he would have rejected the other. But as 
they did not depend upon him, he trusted to a superior wisdom, and 
was perfectly satisfied that the event which happened, whatever it 
might be, was the very event which he himself, had he known all the 
connections and dependencies of things, would most earnestly and 
devoutly have wished for. Whatever he did under the influence and 
direction of those principles was equally perfect ; and when he stretched 
out his finger, to give the example which they commonly made use of, 
he performed an action in every respect as meritorious, as worthy of 
praise and admiration, as when he laid down his life for the service of 
his country. As, to the great Superintendent of the universe, the 
greatest and the smallest exertions of his power, the formation and 
dissolution of a world, the formation and dissolution of a bubble, were 
equally easy, were equally admirable, and equally the effects of the 
same divine wisdom and benevolence ; so, to the Stoical wise man, 
what we would call the great action required no more exertion than the 
little one, was equally easy, proceeded from exactly the same principles, 
was in no respect more meritorious, nor worthy of any higher degree of 
praise and admiration. 

As all tho§e who had arrived at this state of perfection were equally 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 257 

happy, so all those who fell in the smallest degree short of it, how 
nearly soever they might approach to it, were equally miserable. As 
the man, they said, who was but an inch below the surface of the 
water, could no more breathe than he who was an hundred yards below 
it ; so the man who had not completely subdued all his private, partial, 
and selfish passions, who had any other earnest desire but that for the 
universal happiness, who had not completely emerged from that abyss 
of misery and disorder into which his. anxiety for the gratification of 
those private, partial, and selfish passions had involved him, could no 
more breathe the free air of liberty and independency, could no more 
enjoy the security and happiness of the wise man, ihan he who was 
most remote from that situation. As all the actions of the wise man 
were perfect and equally perfect ; so all those of the man who had not 
arrived at this supreme wisdom were faulty, and, as some Stoics pre- 
tended, equally faulty. As one truth, they said, could not be more 
true, nor one falsehood more false than another ; so an honourable 
action could not be more honourable, nor a shamefiil one more shame- 
ful than another. As in shooting at a mark, the man who missed it by 
an inch had equally missed it with him who had done so by a hundred 
yards ; so the man who, in what to us appears the most insignificant 
action, had acted improperly and without a sufficient reason, was 
equally faulty with him who had done so in, what to us appears, the 
most important ; the man who has killed a cock, for example, impro- 
perly and without a sufficient reason, was as criminal as he who had 
muidered his father. 

If the first of those two paradoxes should appear sufficiently violent, 
the second is evidently too absurd to deserve any serious consideration. 
It is, indeed, so very absurd that one can scarce help suspecting that it 
must have been in some measure misunderstood or misrepresented. 
At any rate, I cannot allow myself to believe that such men as Zeno or 
Cleanthes, men, it is said, of the most simple as well as of the most 
sublime eloquence, could be the authors, either of these, or of the 
greater part of the other Stoical paradoxes, which are in general mere 
impertinent quibbles, and do so little honour to their system that I 
shall give no further account of them. I am disposed to impute them 
rather to Chrysippus, the disciple and follower, indeed, of Zeno and 
Cleanthes, but who, from all that has been delivered down to us con- 
cerning him, seems to have been a mere dialectical pedant, without 
taste or elegance of any kind. He may have been the first who 
reduced their doctrines into a scholastic or technical system of artificial 
definitions, divisions, and subdivisions ; one of the most effectual ex- 
pedients, perhaps, for extinguishing whatever degree of good sense 
there may be in any moral or metaphysical doctrine. Such a man may 
very easily be supposed to have imderstood too literally some animated 
expressions of his masters in describing the happiness of the man of 


perfect virtue, and the unhappiness of whoever might fall short of that 

The Stoics in general seem to have admitted that there might be a 
degree of proficiency in those who had Hot advanced to perfect virtue 
and happiness. They distributed those proficients into different classes, 
according to the degree of their advancement ; and they called the 
imperfect virtues which they supposed them capable of exercising, not 
rectitudes, but proprieties, fitnesses, decent and becoming actions, for 
which a plausible or probable reason could be assigned, ^at Cicero 
expresses by the Latin word official and Seneca, I think more exactly, 
by that of convenientia. The doctrine of those imperfect, but attain- 
able virtues, seems to have constituted what we may call the practical 
morality of the Stoics. It is the subject of Cicero's Offices ; and is 
said to have been that of another book written by Marcus Bratos, but 
which is now lost 

The plan and system which Nature has sketched out for our 
conduct, seems to us to be altogether different from that of the 
Stoical philosophy. 

By Nature the events which immediately affect that little depart- 
ment in which we ourselves have some little management and direc- 
tion, which immediately affect ourselves, our friends, our country, are 
the events which interest us the most, and which chiefly ^cite our 
desires and aversions, our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows. 
Should those passions be, what they are very apt to be, too vehement, 
Nattire has provided a proper remedy and correction. The real or 
even the imaginary presence of the impartial spectator, the authority 
of the man within the breast, is always at hand to Overawe them into 
the proper tone and temper of moderation. 

If, notwithstanding our most faithful exertions, all the events which 
can affect this little department, should turn out the most unfortunate 
and disastrous. Nature has by no means left us without ccMisolation. 
That consolation may be drawn, not only from the complete approba- 
tion of the man within the breast, but, if possible, from a still nobler 
and more generous principle, from a firm reliance upon, and a reveren- 
tial submission to, that benevolent wisdom which directs all the events 
of human life, and which, we may be assured, would never have suffered 
those misfortunes to happen, had they not bc^n indispensably necessary 
for the good of the whole. 

Nature has not prescribed to us this sublime contemplation as the 
great business and occupation of our lives. She only points it out to us 
as the consolation of our misfortunes. The Stoical philosophy pre- 
scribes it as the great business and occupation of our lives. That 
philosophy teaches us to interest ourselves earnestly and anxiously in 
no events, external to the good order of our own minds, to the propriety 
of our own choosing and rejecting, except in those which conceni a 

smith's ^theory of moral sentiments. 259 

department where we neither have nor ought to have any sort of 
management or direction, the department of the great Superintendent 
of the universe. By the •perfect apathy which it prescribes to us, by 
endeavouring, not merely to moderate, but to eradicate all our private, 
partial, and selfish affections, by suffering us to fed for whatever can 
befall ourselves, our friends, our country, not even the sympathetic and 
reduced passions of the impartial spectator, it endeavours to render us 
altogether indifferent and unconcerned in the success or miscarriage of 
every thing which Nature has prescribed to us as the proper business 
and occupation of our lives. 

The reasonings of philosophy, it may be ssdd, though they may con- 
found and perplex the understanding, can never break down the neces* 
saiy connection which Nature has established between causes and their 
effects. The causes which naturally excite our desires and aversions^ 
our hopes and fears, our joys and sorrows, would no doubt, notwith- 
standing all the reasonings of Stoicism, produce upon each individual, 
according to the degree of his actual sensibility, their proper and neces- 
sary effects. The judgments of the man within the breast, however, 
might be a good deal affected by those reasonings, and that great 
inmate might be taught by them to attempt to overawe all otn: private, 
partial, and selfish affections into a more or less perfect tranquillity. To 
direct the judgments of this inmate is the great purpose of all systems of 
morality. That the Stoical philosophy had very great influence upon 
the character and conduct of its followers, cannot be doubted ; and 
that, though it might sometimes incite them to unnecessary violence, 
its general tendency was to animate them to actions of the most heroic 
magnanimity and most extensive benevolence. 

IV. Besides these ancient, there are some modem systems, accord- 
ing to which virtue consists in propriety ; or in the suitableness of the 
affection from which we act, to the cause or object which excites it 
The system of Dr. Oark, which places virtue in acting according to 
the relation of things, in regulating our conduct according to the fit- 
ness or incongruity which there may be in the application of certain 
actions to certain things, or to certain relations : that of Mr. WoUaston, 
which places it in acting according to the truth of things, according to 
their proper nature and essence, or in treating them as what they really 
are, and not as what they are not : that of my Lord Shaftesbury, which 
places it in maintaining a proper balance of the affections, and in 
allowing no passion to go beyond its proper sphere ; are aU of them 
more or less inaccurate descriptions of the same fundamental idea. 

None of those systems either give, or even pretend to give, any pre- 
cise or distinct measure by which this fitness or propriety of affection 
can be ascertained or judged of. That precise and distinct measure can 
be found no where but in the sympathetic feelings of the impartial and 
wdl-nxfonned spectator. 


The description of virtue, besides, which is either given, or at least 
meant and intended to be given in each of those systems, for some of 
the modem authors are not very fortunate in their manner of expres- 
sing themselves, is no doubt quite just, so far as it goes. /There is no 
virtue without propriety, and wherever there is propriety some degree 
of approbation is due. But still this description is imperfect For 
though propriety is 2ui essential ingredient in every virtuous action, it 
is not always the sole ingredient Beneficent actions have in them 
another quality by which they appear not only to deserve approbation 
but recompense. None of those systems account either easily or 
sufficiently for that superior degree of esteem which seems due to such 
actions, or for that diversity of sentiment which they naturally excite. 
Neither is the description of vice more complete. For, in the same 
manner, though impropriety is a necessary ingredient in every vicious 
action, it is not always the sole ingredient ; and tihere is often the 
highest degree of absurdity and impropriety in very harmless and 
-insignificant actions. Deliberate actions, of a pernicious tendency to 
those we live with, have, besides their impropriety, a peculiar quality of 
their own by which they appear to deserve, not only disapprobation, 
but punishment ; and to be the objects, not of dislike merely, but of 
resentment and revenge : and none of those systems easily and suifi- 
ciendy account for that superior degroe of detestation which we feel 
for such actions. 

Chap. 1 1. — Of those Systems which make Virtue consist in 
Prudence, , 
The most ancient of those systems which make virtue consist in pru- 
dence, and of which any considerable remains have come down to us, 
is that of Epicurus, who is said, however, to have borrowed aU the 
leading principles of his philosophy from some of those who had gone 
before him, particularly from Aristippus ; though it is very probable, 
notwithstanding this allegation of his enemies, that at least his manner 
of applying those principles was altogether his own. 

According to Epiciuiis (Cicero de finibus, lib. L Diogenes Laert L x.) 
bodily pleasure and pain were the sole ultimate objects of natural 
desire and aversion. That they were always the natural objects of 
those passions, he thought required no proof. Pleasure might, indeed, 
appear sometimes to be avoided ; not, however, because it was plea- 
sure, but because, by the enjoyment of it, we should either forfeit some 
greater pleasure, or expose ourselves to some pain that was more to be 
avoided than this pleasure was to be desired. Pain, in the same man- 
ner, might appear sometimes to be eligible ; not, however, because it 
was pain, but because by enduring it we might either avoid a still 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 261 

greater pain, or acquire some pleasure of much more importance. That 
bodily pain and pleasure, therefore, were always the natural objects of 
desire and aversion, was, he thought, abundantly evident. Nor was it 
less so, he imagined, that they were the sole ultimate objects of those 
passions. Whatever else was either desired or avoided, was so, accord- 
ing to him, upon account of its tendency to produce one or other of 
those sensations. The tendency to procure pleasiure rendered power 
and riches desirable, as the contrary tendency to produce pain made 
poverty and insignificancy the objects of aversion. Honour and repu- 
tation were valued, because the esteem and love of those we live with 
were of the greatest consequence both to procure pleasure and to defend 
us firom pain. Ignominy and bad fame, on the contrary, were to be 
avoided, because the hatred, contempt, and resentment of those we 
lived with, destroyed all security, and necessarily exposed us to the 
greatest bodily evils. 

All the pleasures and pains of the mind were, according to Epicurus, 
ultimately derived from those of the body. The mind was happy when 
it thought of the past pleasures of the body, and hoped for others 
to come : and it was miserable when it thought of the pains which 
the body had formerly endured, and dreaded the same or greater 

But the pleasures and pains of the mind, though ultimately derived 
from those of the body, were vastly greater than their originals. The 
body felt only the sensation of the present instant, whereas the mind 
felt also the past and the future, the one by remembrance, the other by 
anticipation, and consequently both suffered and enjoyed much more. 
When we are under the greatest bodily pain, he observed, we shall 
always find, if we attend to it, that it is not the suffering of the present 
instant which chiefly torments us, but either the agonizing remembrance 
of the past, or the yet more horrible dread of the fiiture. The pain of 
each instant, considered by itself, and cut off from all that goes before 
and all that comes after it, is a trifle, not worth the regarding. Yet 
this is all which the body can ever be said to suffer. In the same 
manner, when we enjoy the greatest pleasure, we shall always find that 
the bodily sensation, the sensation of the present instant, tnakes but a 
small part of our happiness, that our enjoyment chiefly arises either 
from the cheerful recollection of the past, or the still more joyous anti- 
cipation of the future, aiid that the mind always contributes by much 
the largest share of the entertainment 

Since our happiness and misery, therefore, depended chiefly on the 
mind, if this part of oiu: nature was well disposed, if our thoughts and 
opinions were as they should ^e, it was of little importance in what 
manner our body was affected. Though under great bodily pain, we 
might still enjoy a considerable share of happiness, if our reason and 
judgment maintained their superiority. We might entertain ourselves 


with the remembrance of past, and with the hopes of future pleasure ; 
we might soften the rigour of our pains, by recollecting \^hat it was 
which, even in this situation, we were under any necessity of suffering. 
That this was mearely the bodily sensation, the pain of the present 
instant, which by itself could never be very great. That whatever 
agony we suffered from the dread of its continuance, was the effect of 
an opinion of the mind, which might be corrected by juster sentiments; 
by considering that, if our pains were violent, they would probaUy be 
of short duration ; and that if they were of long continuance, they 
would probably be moderate, and admit of many intervals of ease ; and 
that, at any rate, death was always at hand and within call to deliver 
us, which as, according to him, it put an end to all sensation, either of 
pain or pleasure,, could not be regarded as an. evil When we are, said 
he, deatii is not ; and when death is„ we axe not ; death therefore can 
be nothing to us. 

If the actual sensation of positive pain was in itself so little to be 
feared, that of plieasure was .still less to be desired. Naturally the 
sensation of pleasure, was much less pungient than th^t of pain. 1^ 
therefore, this last could take so very little Crom the happiness of a well- 
disposed mind, the. other could add scarce any thing to it When the 
body was free from pain and the mind from fear and anxiety, the super* 
added sensation of bodily pleasure could be of very little importance ; 
and though it might diversify, could not properly be said to increase 
the happiness of this situation. 

In ease of body, therefore, and in security of titainquillity of mindi 
consisted, according to Epicurus, the most perfect state of human 
nature, the most complete happiness which man was capable of enjoy- 
ixKg. To obtain this great end of natural desire was the sole object of 
all the virtues, which, according to him, were not desirable upon their 
own account, but chiefly upon account of their tendency to bring 
about this situation. 

Prudence, for example, though, accordii^ to this philosophy, the 
source and principle of all the virtues, was^not desirable upon its own 
account That careful and laborious and circumspect state of mind, 
ever watchful and ever attentive to the most distant consequences of 
every action, could not be a thing pleasant or agreeable for its own 
sake, but upon account of its tendency to procure the greatest goods 
and to keep off the greatest evils. 

To abstain from pleasure too, to curb and restrain our natural pas- 
sions for enjoyment, which was the office of temperance, could never be 
desirable for its own sake. The whole value of this virtue arose from its 
utility, from its enabling us to postpone^the present enjoyment for the 
sake of a greater to come, or to avoid a greater pain, that might ensue 
from it Temperance, in short, was, according to the Epicureans, 
nothing but prudence with regard to pleasure. 

smith's theory of moral SENTIICSNTS. 263 

To support labour, to endure psdn, to be exposed to danger or to 
death, the situations which fortitude would often lead us into, were 
surely still, less the objects of natural desire. They were chosen only 
to avoid greater evils. We submitted to labour, in order to avoid tha 
greater shame and pain of poverty, and we exposed ourselves to danger 
and to de^th in defence of our liberty and property, the means and 
instruments of pleasure and happiness ; or in defence of our country, 
in the safety of which our own was necessarily comprehended. Forti- 
tude enabled us to do all this cheerfully, as the best which, in our pre- 
sexnt situation^ could possibly be done, and was in reality no more than 
prudence, good judgment, and presence of mind in properly appreciat- 
ing pain, labour, and danger, always choosing the less in order to avoid 
the greater evil 

It is the same case with justice. To abstain from what is another's 
was not desirable on its own account, and it could not surely be better 
for you, that I should posses what is my own, than that you should 
possess it You ought, however, to abstain from whatever belongs to 
me, because by doing otherwise you will provoke the resentment and 
indignation of mankind. The security and tranquiUity of your mind 
will be entirely destroyed. You will be filled m\h fear and consterna- 
tion at 'the thought of that punishment which you will imagine that 
men are at all times ready to inflict upon you, and from which no 
power, no art, no concealment, will ever, in your own fancy, be suffi- 
cient to protect you. The other species of justice which con^sts in 
doing proper good offices to different persons, according to the various 
relations of neighbours, kinsmen, friends, benefactors, superiors, or 
equals, which they may stand in to us, is recommended by the same 
reasons. To act properly in all these different relations procures us 
the esteem and love of those we live with; as to do otherwise excites 
their contempt and hatred. By the one we naturally secure, by the 
other we necessarily endanger our own ease and tranquillity, the great 
and ultimate objects of all our desires. The whole virtue of justice, 
therefore, the most important of all the virtues, is no more than dis- 
creet and prudent conduct with regard to our neighbours. 

Such is the doctrine of Epicurus concerning the nature of virtue. It 
may seem exti^rdinary that this philosopher, who is described as a 
person of the most amiable manners, should never have observed, that, 
whatever may be the tendency of those virtues, or of the contrary vices, 
with regard to our bodily ease and security, the sentiments which they 
naturally e?ccite in others are the objects of a much more passionate 
desire or aversion than all their other consequences ; that to be ami- 
able, to be respectable, to be the. proper object of esteem, is by every 
well-disposed, mind moire valued than all the ease and security which 
love, respect, and esteem can procure us ; that, on the contrary, to be 
odious, to be contemptible, tP be the proper object of indignation, is 


more dreadful than all that we can suffer in our body from hatred, 
contempt, or indignation ; and that consequently our desire of the one 
character, and our aversion to the other, cannot arise from any regard 
to the effects which either of them may produce upon the body. 

This system is, no doubt, altogether inconsistent with that which I 
have been endeavouring to establish. It is not difficult, however, to 
discover from what phasis, if I may say so, from what particular view 
or aspect of nature, this account of things derives its probability. By 
the wise contrivance of the Author of nature, virtue is upon all ordinary 
occasions, even with regard to this Ufe, real wisdom, and the surest and 
readiest means of obtaining both safety and advantage. Our success 
or disappointment in our undertakings must very much depend upon 
the good or bad opinion which is commonly entertained of us, and 
upon the general disposition of those we live with, either to assist or to 
oppose us. But the best, the surest, the easiest, and the readiest way 
of obtaining the advantageous, and of avoiding the unfavourable judg- 
ments of others, is undoubtedly to render ourselves the proper objects 
of the former and not of the latter. ' Do you desire,' said Socrates, 

* the reputation of a good musician ? The only sure way of obtaining 
Mt, is to become a good musician. Would you desire in the same 

* manner to be thought capable of serving your country either as a 
^general or as a statesman ? The best way in this case too is really to 
' acquire the art and experience of war and government, and to become 
' really fit to be a general or a statesman. And in the same maimer if 

* you would be reckoned sober, temperate, just, and equitable, the best 

* way of acquiring this reputation is to become sober, temperate, just, 

* and equitable. If you can really render yourself amiable, respectable^ 

* and the proper object of esteem, there is no fear of your not soon 

* acquiring the love, the respect, and esteem of those you live with.' 
Since the practice of virtue, therefore, is in general so advantageous, 
and that of vice so contrary to our interest, the consideration of those 
opposite tendencies undoubtedly stamps an additional beauty and pro- 
priety upon the one, and a new deformity and impropriety upon the 
other. Temperance, magnanimity, justice, and beneficence, come thus 
to be approved of, not only under their proper characters, but under 
the additional character of the highest wisdom and most read prudence. 
And in the same manner, the contrary vices of intemperance, pusilla- 
nimity, injustice, and either malevolence or sordid selfishness, come to 
be disapproved of, not only under their proper characters, but under 
the additional character of the most short-sighted folly and weakness 
Epicurus appears in every virtue to have attended to this species of 
propriety only. It is that which is most apt to occur to those who are 
endeavouring to persuade others to regularity of conduct When men 
by their practice, and perhaps too by their maxims, manifestly show 
that the natural beauty of virtue is not like to have much effect upon 

smith's theory of moral sentiments, 265 

them, how is it possible to move them but by representing the folly of 
their conduct, and how much they themselves are in the end likely to 
suffer by it ? 

By running up all the different virtues too to this one species of pro- 
priety, Epicurus indulged a propensity, which is natural to all men, but 
which philosophers in particular are apt to cultivate with a pecuhar 
fondness, as the great means of displaying their ingenuity, the propen- 
sity to account for all appearances from as few principles as possible. 
And he, no doubt, indulged this propensity still further, when he re- 
ferred all the primary objects of natural desire and aversion to the 
pleasures and pains of the body. The great patron of the atomical 
philosophy, who took so much pleasure in deducing all the powers and 
qualities of bodies from the most obvious and familiar, the figure, 
motion, and arrangement of the small parts of matter, felt no doubt a 
similar satisfaction, when he accounted, in the same manner, for all 
the sentiments and passions of the mind from those which are most 
obvious and familiar. 

The system of Epicurus agreed with those of Plato, Aristotle, and 
Zeno, in making virtue consist in acting in the most suitable manner 
to obtain (Prima naturae) primary objects of natural desire. It differed 
from all of them in two other respects; first, in the account which it 
gave of those primary objects of natural desire ; and secondly, in the 
account which it gave of the excellence of virtue, or of the reason why 
that quality ought to be esteemed. 

The primary objects of natural desire consisted, according to Epi- 
curus, in bodily pleasure and pain, and in nothing else: whereas, 
according to the other three philosophers, there were many other ob- 
jects, such as knowledge, such as the happiness of our relations, of our 
friends, and of our country, which were ultimately desirable for their 
own sakes. 

Virtue too, according to Epicurus, did not deserve to be pursued for 
its own sake, nor was itself one of the ultimate objects of natural 
appetite, but was eligible only upon account of its tendency to prevent 
pain and to procure ease and pleasure. In the opi^ion of the other 
three, on the contrary, it was desirable, not merely as the means of 
procuring the other primary objects of natural desire, but as something 
which was in itself more valuable than them alL Man, they thought, 
being bom for action, his happiness must consist, not merely in the 
agreeableness of his passive sensations, but also in the propriety of his 
active exertions. 

Chap. 111.^—0/ those Systems which make Virtue consist in 


The system which makes virtue consist in benevolence, though I think 



not SO ancient as all those which I have already given an account of, 
is, however, of very great antiquity. It seems to have been the doctrine 
of the greater part of those philosophers who, about and after the age 
of Augustus, called themselves Eclectics, who pretended to follow 
chiefly the opinions of Plato and Pythagoras, and who upon that ac- 
count are commonly known by the name of the later Platonists. 

In the divine nature, according to these authors, benevolence or love 
was the sole principle of action, and directed the exertion of all the 
other attributes. The wisdom of the Deity was employed in finding 
out the means for bringing about those ends which his goodness sug- 
gested, and his infinite power was exerted to execute thena. Benevo- 
lence, however, was still the supreme and governing attribute, to which 
the others were subservient, and from which the whole excellency, or 
the whole morality, if I may be allowed such an expression, of the 
divine operations, was ultimately derived. The whole perfection and 
virtue of the human mind consisted in some resemblance or participa- 
tion of the divine perfections, and, consequently, in being filled with 
the same principle of benevolence and love which influenced all the 
actions of the Deity. The actions of men which flowed from this 
motive were alone truly praise-worthy, or could claim any merit in the 
sight of the Deity^ It was by actions of charity and love only that we 
could imitate, as became us, the conduct of God, that we could express 
our humble and devout admiration of his infinite perfections, that by 
. fostering in our own minds the same divine principle, we could bring 
our, own affections to a greater resemblance with his holy attributes, 
and thereby become more proper objects of his love and esteem ; till 
we arrived at that immediate converse and communication with the 
Deity to which it was the great object of this philosophy to raise us. 

This system, as it was much esteemed by many ancient fathers of 
the Christian church, so after the Reformation it was adopted by 
several divines of the most eminent piety and learning and of the most 
amiable manners ; particularly, by Dr. Ralph Cudworth, by Dr. Henry 
More, and by Mr. John Smith of Cambridge. But of all the patrons 
of this system, ancient or modem, the late Dr. Hutcheson was un- 
doubtedly, beyond all comparison, the most acute, the most distinct, 
the most philosophical, and what is of the greatest consequence of all, 
the soberest and most judicious. 

That virtue consists in benevolence is a notion supported by many 
appearances in human nature. It has been observed already, that 
proper benevolence is the most graceful and agreeable of all the affec- 
tions, that it is recommended to us by a double sympathy, that as its 
tendency is necessarily beneficent, it is the proper object of gratitude 
and reward, and that upon all these accounts it appears to our natural 
sentiments to possess a merit superior to any other. It has been 
observed, too, that even the weaknesses of benevolence are not very 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 267 

disagreeable to us, whereas those of every other passion are always 
extremely disgusting. Who does not abhor excessive malice, excessive 
selfishness, or excessive resentment ? But the most excessive indul- 
gence even of partial friendship is not so offensive. It is the benevo- 
lent passions only which can exert themselves without any regard or 
attention to propriety, and yet retain something about them which is 
engaging. There is something pleasing even in mere instinctive good- 
will, which goes on to do good offices without once reflecting whether 
by this conduct it is the proper object either of blame or approbation. 
It is not so with the other passions. The moment they are deserted, 
the moment they are unaccompanied by the sense of propriety, they 
cease to be agreeable. 

As benevolence bestows upon those actions which proceed from it, 
a beauty superior to all others, so the want of it, and much more the 
contrary inclination, communicates a peculiar deformity to whatever 
evidences such a disposition. Pernicious actions are often punishable 
for no other reason than because they show a want of sufficient atten- 
tion to the happiness of our neighbour. 

Besides all this. Dr. Hutcheson (Inquiry concerning Virtue, sect. i. 
and 2.) observed, that whenever in any action, supposed to proceed 
from benevolent affections, some other motive had been discovered, 
our sense of the merit of this action was just so far diminished as this 
motive was believed to have influenced it If an action, supposed to 
proceed from gratitude, should be discovered to have arisen from an 
expectation of some new favour, or if what was apprehended to proceed 
from public spirit, should be found out to have taken its origin from 
the hope of a pecuniary reward, such a discovery would entirely destroy 
all notion of merit or praise-worthiness in either of these actions. 
Since, therefore, the mixture of any selfish motive, like that of a baser 
alloy, diminished or took away altogether the merit which would other- 
wise have belonged to any action, it was evident, he imagined, that 
virtue must consist in pure and disinterested benevolence alone. 

When those actions, on the contrary, which are commonly supposed 
to proceed from a selfish motive, are discovered to have arisen from a 
benevolent one, it greatly enhances our sense of their merit. If we 
believed of any person that he endeavoured to advance his fortune 
from no other view but that of doing friendly offices, and of making 
proper returns to his benefactors, we should only love and esteem him 
the more. And this observation seemed still more to confimi the con- 
clusion, that it was benevolence only which could stamp upon any 
action the character of virtue. 

Last of all, what, he imagined, was an evident proof of the justness 
of this account of virtue, in all the disputes of casuists concerning the 
rectitude of conduct, the pubhc good, he observed, was the standard to 
which they constantly referred; thereby universally acknowledging 

18 • 


that whatever tended to promote the happiness of mankind was right 
and laudable and virtuous, and the contrary, wrong, blamable, and 
vicious. In the late debates about passive obedience and the right of 
resistance, the sole point in controversy among men of sense was 
whether universal submission would probably be attended with greater 
evils than temporary insurrections^ when privileges were invaded 
Whether what, upon the whole, tended most to the happiness of 
mankind, was not also morally good, was never once, he said, made 
a question by them. 

Since benevolence, therefore, was the only motive which could be- 
stow upon any action the character of virtue, the greater the benevo- 
lence which was evidenced by any action, the greater the praise which 
must belong to it 

Those actions which aimed at the happiness of a great community, 
as they demonstrated a more enlarged benevolence than those which 
aimed only at that of a smaller system, so were they, likewise, propor- 
tionally the more virtuous. The most virtuous of all affections, there- 
fore, was that which embraced as its object the happiness of all intel- 
ligent beings. The least virtuous, on the contrary, of those to which 
the character of virtue could in any respect belong, was that which 
aimed no further than at the happiness of an individual, such as a son, 
a brother, a friend. 

In directing all our actions to promote the greatest possible good, in 
submitting all inferior affections to the desire of the general happiness 
of mankind, in regarding one's self but as one of the many, whose pros- 
perity was to be pursued no further than it was consistent -with, or con- 
ducive to that of the whole, consisted the perfection of virtue. 

Self-love was a principle which could never be virtuous in any de- 
gree or in any direction. It was vicious whenever it obstructed the 
general good. When it had no other effect than to make the individ- 
ual take care of his own happiness, it was merely innocent, and though 
it deserved no praise, neither ought it to incur any blame. Those 
benevolent actions which were performed, notwithstanding some strong 
motive from self-interest, were the more virtuous upon that account 
They demonstrated the strength and vigour of the benevolent principle. 

Dr. Hutcheson * was so far from allowing self-love to be in any case 
a motive of virtuous actions, that even a regard to the pleasure of self- 
approbation, to the comfortable applause of our own consciences, ac 
cording to him, diminished the merit of a benevolent action. This was 
a selfish motive, he thought, which, so far as it contributed to any action, 
demonstrated the weakness of that pure and disinterested benevolence 
which could alone stamp upon the conduct of man the character of 
virtue. In the common judgments of mankind, however, this regard 

* Inquiry concerning Virtue, sect. 2. art. 4. ; also Illustrations on the Moral Sense, sect. 
Si last paragraph. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 269 

to the approbation of our own minds is so far from being considered as 
what can in any respect diminish the virtue of any action, that it is 
often rather looked upon as the sole motive which deserves the appel- 
lation of virtuous. 

Such is the account given of the nature of virtue in this amiable sys- 
tem, a system which has a peculiar tendency to nourish and support in 
the human heart the noblest and the most agreeable of aU affections, and 
not only to check the injustice of self-love, but in some measure to dis- 
courage that principle altogether, by representing it as what could never 
reflect any honour upon those who were influenced by it 

As some of the other systems which I have already given an account 
of, do not sufficiently explain from whence arises the pecuhar excellency 
of the supreme virtue of beneficence, so this system seems to have the 
contrary defect, of not sufficiently explaining from whence arises our 
approbation of the inferior virtues of prudence, vigilance, circumspec- 
tion, temperance, constancy, firmness. The view and aim of our affec- 
tions, the beneficent and hurtful effects which they tend to produce, are 
the only qualities at all attended to in this system. Their propriety 
and impropriety, their suitableness and imsuitableness, to the cause 
which excites them, are disregarded altogether. 

Regard to our own private happiness and interest, too, appear upon 
many occasions very laudable principles of action. The habits of 
oeconomy, industry, discretion, attention, and application of thought, 
are generally supposed to be cultivated from self-interested motives, and 
at the same time are apprehended to be very praise-worthy qualities, 
which deserve the esteem and approbation of every body. The mix- 
ture of a selfish motive, it is true, seems often to sully the beauty of 
those actions which ought to arise from a benevolent affection. The 
cause of this, however, is not that self-love can never be the motive of 
a virtuous action, but that the benevolent principle appears in this par- 
ticular case to want its due degree of strength, and to be altogether un- 
suitable to its object The character, therefore, seems evidently im- 
perfect, and upon the whole to deserve blame rather than praise. The 
mixture of a benevolent motive in an action to which self-love alone 
ought to be sufficient to prompt us, is not so apt indeed to diminish our 
sense of its propriety, or of the virtue of the person who performs it. 
We are not ready to suspect any person of being defective in selfish- 
ness. This is by no means the weak side of human nature, or the fail- 
ing of which we are apt to be suspicious. If we could really beheve, 
however, of any man, that, was it not from a regard to his family and 
friends, he would not take that proper care of his health, his life, or his 
fortune, to which sejf-preservation alone ought to be sufficient to prompt 
him, it would undoubtedly be a failing, though one of those amiable 
failings which render a person rather the object of pity than of con- 
tempt or hatred. It would still, however, somewhat diminish the 


dignity and respectableness of his character. Carelessness and want 
of (Economy are universally disapproved of, not, however, as proceed- 
ing from a want of benevolence, but from a want of proper attention to 
the objects of self-interest 

Though the standard by which casuists frequently determine what is 
right or wrong in human conduct, be its tendency to the welfare or 
disorder of society, it does not follow that a regard to the welfare of 
society should be the sole virtuous motive of action, but only that, in 
competition, it ought to cast the balance against all other motives. 

Benevolence may, perhaps, be the sole principle of action in the 
Deity, and there are several not improbable arguments which tend to 
persuade us that it is so. It is not easy to conceive what other motive 
an independent and all-perfect Being, who stands in need of nothing 
external, and who^e happiness is complete in himself, can act from. 
But whatever may be the case with the Deity, so imperfect a creature 
as man, the support of whose existence requires so many things ex- 
ternal to him, must often act from many other motives. The con- 
dition of human nature were peculiarly hard, if those affections, which, 
by the very nature of our being, ought frequently to influence our con- 
duct, could upon no occasion appear virtuous, or deserve esteem and 
commendation from any body. 

Those three systems, that which places virtue in propriety, that which 
places it in prudence, and that which makes it consist in benevolence, 
are the principal accounts which have been given of the nature of 
virtue. To one or other of them, all the other descriptions of virtue, 
how different soever they may appear, are easily reducible. 

That system which places virtue in obedience to the will of the Deity, 
may be accounted either among those which make it consist in pru- 
dence, or among those which make it consist in propriety. When it is 
asked, why we ought to obey the will of the Deity, this question, which 
would be impious and absurd in the highest degree, if asked from any 
doubt that we ought to obey him, can admit but of two different 
answers. It must either be said that we ought to obey the will of the 
Deity because he is a Being of infinite power, who will reward us eter- 
nally if we do so, and punish us eternally if we do otherwise : or it must 
be said, that independent of any regard to our own happiness, or to 
tewards and punishments of any kind, there is a congruity and fitness 
that a creature should obey its creator, that a limited and imperfect 
being should submit to one of infinite and incomprehensible perfections. 
Besides one or other of these two, it is impossible to conceive that any 
other answer can be given to this question. If the first answer be the 
proper one, virtue consists in prudence, or in the proper pursuit of our 
own final interest and happiness ; since it is upon this account that we 
are obliged to obey the will of the Deity. If the second answer be the 
proper one, virtue must consist in propriety, since the ground of our 

smith's th£Ory of moral sentiments. 271 

obligation to obedience is the suitaWeness or congrulty of the senti» 
ments of humility and submission to the superiority of the object which 
excites them. 

That system which places virtue in utility, coincides too with that 
which makes it consist in propriety. According to this system, all 
those qualities of the mind which are agreeable or advantageous, either , 
to the person himself or to others, are approved of as virtuous, and 
the contrary are disapproved of as vicious. But the agreeableness or ' 
utility of any affection depends upon the degree which it is allowed to 
subsist in. Every affection is useful when it is confined to a certain 
degree of moderation ; and every affection is disadvantageous when it 
exceeds the proper bounds. According to this system therefore, virtue 
consists not in any one affection, but in the proper degree of all the 
affections. The only difference between it and that which I have been 
endeavouring to establish, is, that it makes utility, and not sympathy, 
or the correspondent affection of the spectator^ the natural and original 
measure of this proper degree. 

Chap. IV. — Of Licentious Systems. 

All those systems, which I have hitherto given an account of, suppose 
that that there is a real and essential distinction between vice and 
virtue, whatever these qualities may consist in. There is a real and 
essential difference between the propriety and impropriety of any affec- 
tion, between benevolence and any other principle of action, between 
real prudence and short-sighted folly or precipitate rashness. In the 
main, too, all of them contribute to encourage the praiseworthy, and to 
discourage the blameable disposition. 

It may be true, perhaps, of some of them, that they tend, in some 
measure, to break the balance of the affections, and to give the mind a 
particular bias to some principles of action, beyond the proportion that 
is due to them. The ancient systems, which place virtue in propriety, 
seem chiefly to recommend the great, tlje awful, and the respectably 
virtues, the virtues of self-government and self-command ; fortitude, 
magnanimity, independency upon fortune, the contempt of all outward 
accidents, of pain, poverty, exile and death. It is in these great 
exertions that the noblest propriety of conduct is displayed. The soft, 
the amiable, the gentle virtues, all the virtues of indulgent humanity 
are, in comparison, but little insisted upon, and seem, on the contrary, 
by the Stoics in particular, to have been often regarded as weaknesses, 
which it behoved a wise man not to harbour in his breast 

The benevolent system, on the other hand, while it fosters and 
encourages all those milder virtues in the highest degree, seems entirely 
to neglect the more awful and respectable qualities of the mind. It 


even denies them the appellation of virtues. It calls them moral 
abilities, and treats them as qualities which do not deserve the same 
sort of esteem and approbation, that is due to what is properly denomi- 
nated virtue. All those principles of action which aim only at our own 
interest, it treats, if that be possible, still worse. So far from having 
any merit of their own, they diminish, it pretends, the merit of bene- 
volence, when they co-operate with it ; and prudence, it is asserted, 
when employed only in promoting private interest, can never even be 
imagined a virtue. 

That system, again, which makes virtue consist in prudence only, 
while it gives the highest encouragement to the habits of caution, 
vigilance, sobriety, and judicious moderation, seems to degrade equally 
both the amiable and respectable virtues, and to strip the former of 
all their beauty, and the latter of all their grandeur. 

But notwithstanding these defects, the general tendencyof each of those 
three systems is to encourage the best and most laudable habits of the 
human mind, and it were well for society, if, either mankind in general, 
or even those few who pretend to live according to any philosophical 
rule, were to regulate their conduct by the precepts of any one of them. 
We may learn from each of them something that is both valuable 
and peculiar. If it was possible, by precept and exhortation, to inspire 
the mind with fortitude and magnanimity, the ancient systems of 
propriety would seem sufficient to do this. Or if it was possible, by the 
same means, to soften it into humanity, and to awaken the affections of 
kindness and general love towards those we live with, some of the 
pictures which the benevolent system presents us, might seem capable 
of producing this effect We may learn from the system of Epicurus, 
though undoubtedly the most imperfect of all the three, how much the 
practice of both the amiable and respectable virtues is conducive to 
our own interest, to our own ease and safety and quiet even in this life. 
As Epicurus placed happiness in the attainment of ease and security, 
he exerted himself in a particular manner to show that virtue was, not 
merely the best and the surest, but the only means of acquiring those 
invaluable possessions. The good effects of virtue upon our inward 
tranquillity and peace of mind, are what other philosophers have chiefly 
celebrated. Epicurus, without neglecting this topic, has chiefly insisted 
unpon the influence of that amiable quality on our outward prosperity 
and safety. It was upon this account that his writings were so much 
studied in the ancient world by men of all different philosophical parties. 
It is from him that Cicero, the great enemy of the Epicurean system, 
borrows his most agreeable proofs that virtue alone is sufficient to secure 
happiness. Seneca, though a Stoic, the sect most opposite to that of 
Epicurus, yet quotes this philosopher more frequently than any other. 

There is, however, another system which seems to take away alto- 
gether the distinction between vice and virtue, and of which the ten- 


dency is, upon that account, wholly pernicious : I mean the system of 
Dr. Mandeville. Though the notions of this author are in ahnost every 
respect erroneous, there are, however, some appearances in human 
nature, which, when viewed in a certain manner, seem at first sight to 
favour them. These described and exaggerated by the lively and 
humorous, though coarse and rustic eloquence of Dr. Mandeville, 
have thrown upon his doctrines an air of truth and probability which is 
very apt to impose upon the unskilful 

Dr. Mandeville considers whatever is done from a sense of propriety, 
from a^ regard to what is commendable and praiseworthy, as being 
done from a love of praise and commendation, or as he calls it from 
vanity. Man, he observes, is naturally much more interested in his 
own happiness than in that of others, and it is impossible that in his 
heart he can ever really prefer their prosperity to his own. Whenever 
he appears to do so, we may be assured that he imposes upon us, and 
that he is then acting from the same selfish motives as at all other 
times. Among his other selfish passions, vanity is one of the strongest, 
and he is always easily flattered and greatly delighted with the ap- 
plauses of those about him. When he appears to sacrifice his own 
interest to that of his companions, he knows that this conduct will be 
highly agreeable to their self-love, and that they will not fail to express 
their satisfaction by bestowing upon him the most extravagant praises. 
The pleasure which he expects from this, over-balances, in his opinion, 
the interest which he abandons in order to procure it. His conduct, 
therefore, upon this occasion, is in reality just as selfish, and arises 
from just as mean a motive as upon any other. He is flattered, how- 
ever, and he flatters himself with the belief that it is entirely disin- 
terested ; since, unless this was supposed, it would not seem to merit 
any commendation either in his own eyes or in those of others. All 
public spirit, therefore, all preference of public to private interest, is, 
according to him, a mere cheat and imposition upon mankind; and 
that human virtue which is so much boasted of, and which is the occa- 
sion of so much emulation among men, is the mere offspring of flattery 
begot upon pride. 

Whether the most generous and public-spirited actions may not, in 
some sense, be regarded as proceeding from self-love, I shall not at 
present examine. The decision of this question is not, I apprehend, of 
any importance towards establishing the reality of virtue, since self- 
love may frequently be a virtuous motive of action. I shall only en- 
deavour to show that the desire of doing what is honourable and noble, 
of rendering ourselves the proper objects of esteem and approbation, 
cannot with any propriety be called vanity. Even the love of well- 
grounded fame and reputation, the desire of acquiring esteem by what 
is really estimable, does not deserve that name. The first is the love of 
virtue, the noblest and the best passion of human nature. The secopd 


is the love of true glory, a passion inferior no doubt to the former, but 
which in dignity appears to come immediately after it He is guilty of 
vanity who desires praise for qualities which are either not praise-worthy 
in any degree, or not in that degree in which he expects to be praised 
for them; who sets his character -upon the frivolous ornaments of dress 
and equipage, or upon the equally frivolous accomplishments of ordi- 
nary behaviour. He is guilty of vanity who desires praise for what 
indeed very well deserves it, but what he perfectly knows does not 
belong to him. The empty coxcomb who gives himself airs of im- . 
portance which he has no title to, the silly liar who assumes the merit 
of adventures which never happened, the foolish plagiary who gives 
himself out for the author of what he has no pretensions to, are pro- 
perly accused of this passion. He too is said to be guilty of vanity 
who is not contented with the silent sentiments of esteem and appro- 
bation, who seems to be fonder of their noisy expressions and acclama- 
tions than of the sentiments themselves, who is never satisfied but 
when his own praises are ringing in his ears, and who solicits with the 
most anxious importunity all external marks of respect, is fond of titles, 
of compliments, of being visited, of being attended, of being taken 
notice of in public places with the appearance of deference and atten- 
tion. This frivolous passion is altogether different from either of the 
two former, and is the passion of the lowest and the least of mankind, 
as they are of the noblest and the greatest 

But though these three passions, the desire of rendering ourselves 
the proper objects of honour and esteem, or of becoming what is 
honourable and estimable ; the desire of acquiring honour and esteem 
by really deserving those sentiments ; and the frivolous desire of praise 
at any rate, are widely different; though the two former are always 
approved of, while the latter never fails to be despised; there is, how- 
ever, a certain remote affinity among them, which, exaggerated by the 
humorous and diverting eloquence of this lively author, has enabled 
him to impose upon his readers. There is an affinity between vanity 
and the love of true glory, as botii theae passions aim at acquiring 
esteem and approbation. But they are different in this, that the one is 
a just, reasonable, and equitable passion, while the other is unjust, ab- 
surd, and ridiculous. The man who desires esteem for what is really- 
estimable, desires nothing but what he is justly entitled to, and what 
cannot be refused him without some sort of injury. He, on the con- 
trary, who desires it upon any other terms, demands what he has no 
just claim to. The first is easily satisfied, is not apt to be jealous or 
suspicious that we do not esteem him enough, and is seldom solicitous 
about receiving many external marks of our regard. The other, on the 
contrary, is never to be satisfied, is full of jealousy and suspicion that 
we do not esteem him so much as he desires, because he has some 
secret consciousness that he desires more than he deserves. The least 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 27s 

neglect of ceremony, he considers as a mortal affront, and as an ex- 
pression of the most determined contempt. He is restless and im- 
patient, and perpetually afraid that we have lost all respect for him, 
and is upon this account always anxious to obtain new expressions of 
our esteem, and cannot be kept in temper but by continual attendance 
and adulation. 

There is an affinity, too, between the desire of becoming what is 
honourable and estimable and the desire of honour and esteem, be- 
tween the love of virtue and the love of true glory. They resemble one 
another not only in this respect, that both aim at really being what is 
honourable and noble, but even in that respect in which the love of 
true glory resembles what is properly called vanity, some reference to 
the sentiments of others. The man of the greatest magnanimity, who 
desires virtue for its own sake, and is most indifferent about what 
actually are the opinions of mankind with regard to him, is still, how- 
ever, delighted with the thoughts of what they should be, with the 
consciousness that though he may neither be honoured nor applauded, 
he is still the proper object of honour and applause, and that if man- 
kind were cool and candid and consistent with themselves, and pro- 
perly informed of the motives and circumstances of his conduct, they 
would not fail to honour and applaud him. Though he despises the 
opinions which are actually entertained of him, he has the highest 
value for those which ought to be entertained of him. That he might 
think himself worthy of those honourable sentiments, and, whatever 
was the idea which other men might conceive of his character, that 
when he should put himself in their situation, and consider, not what 
was, but what ought to be their opinion, he should always have the 
highest idea of it himself, was the great and exalted motive of his con- 
duct. As even in the love of virtue, therefore, there is still some 
reference, though not to what is, yet to what in reason and propriety 
ought to be, the opinion of others, there is even in this respect some 
affinity between it and the love of true glory. There is, however, at 
the same time, a very great difference between them. The man who 
acts solely from a regard to what is right and fit to be done, from a 
regard to what is the proper object of esteem and approbation, though 
these sentiments should never be bestowed upon him, acts from the 
most sublime and godlike motive which human nature is even capable 
of conceiving. The man, on the other hand, who while he desires to 
merit approbation, is at the same time anxious to obtain it, though he, 
too, is laudable in the main, yet his motives have a greater mixture of 
human infirmity. He is in danger of being mortified by the ignorance 
and injustice of mankind, and his happiness is exposed to the envy of 
his rivals and the folly of the public. The happiness of the other, on 
the contrary, is altogether secure and independent of fortune, and of 
the caprice of those he lives with. The contempt and hatred which 


may be thrown upon him by the ignorance of mankind, he considers as 
not belonging to him, and is not at all mortified by it Mankind 
despise and hate him from a false notion of his character and conduct 
If they knew him better, they would esteem and love him. It is not 
him whom, properly speaking, they hate and despise, but another 
person whom they mistake him to be. Our friend, whom we should 
meet at a masquerade in the garb of our enemy, would be more diverted 
than mortified, if under that disguise we should vent our indignation 
against him. Such are the sentiments of a man of real magnanimity, 
when exposed to unjust censure. It seldom happens, however, that 
human nature arrives at this degree of firmness. Though none but 
the weakest and most worthless of mankind are much delighted with 
false glory, yet, by a strange inconsistency, false ignominy is capable of 
mortifying those who appear the most resolute and determined. 

Dr. Mandeville is not satisfied with representing the frivolous motive 
of vanity, as the source of all those actions which are commonly ac- 
counted virtuous. He endeavours to point out the imperfection of 
human virtue in many other respects. In every case, he pretends, it 
falls short of that complete self-denial which it pretends to, and, instead 
of a conquest, is commonly no more than a concealed indulgence of our 
passions. Wherever our reserve with regard to pleasure falls short of 
the most ascetic abstinence, he treats it as gross luxury and sensuality. 
Every thing, according to him, is luxury which exceeds what is abso- 
lutely necessary for the support of human nature, so that there is vice 
even in the use of a clean shirt or of a convenient habitation. The 
indulgence of the inclination to sex, in the most lawful union, he con- 
siders as the same sensuality with the most hurtful gratification of that 
passion, and derides that temperance and that chastity which can be 
practised at so cheap a rate. The ingenious sophistry of his reasoning, 
is here, as upon many other occasions, covered by the ambiguity of 
language. There are some of our passions which have no other names 
except those which mark the disagreeable and offensive degree. The 
spectator is more apt to take notice of them in this degree than in any 
other. When they shock his own sentiments, when they give him 
some sort of antipathy and uneasiness, he is necessau-ily obliged to 
attend to them, and is from thence naturally led to give them a name. 
When they fall in with the natural state of his own mind, he is very 
apt to overlook them altogether, and either gives them no name at all, 
or, if he gives them any, it is one which marks rather the subjection 
and restraint of the passion, than the degree which it still is allowed to 
subsist in, after it is so subjected and restrained. Thus the common 
names (luxury and lust) of the love of pleasure, and of the love of sex, 
denote a vicious and offensive degree of those passions. The words 
temperance and chastity, on the other hand, seem to mark rather the 
restraint and subjection which they are kept under, than the degree 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 277 

which they are still allowed to subsist in. When he can show, there- 
fore, that they still subsist in some degree, he imagines, he has entirely 
demolished the reality of the virtues of temperance and chastity, and 
shown them to be mere impositions upon the inattention and simplicity 
of mankind. Those virtues, however, do not require an entire insensi- 
bility to the objects of the passions which they mean to govern. They 
only aim at restraining the violence of those passions so far as not to 
hurt the individual, and neither disturb nor offend society. 

It is the great fallacy of Dr. Mandeville's book (Fable of the Bees) to 
represent every passion as wholly vicious, which is so in any degree and 
in any direction. It is thus that he treats every thing as vanity which 
has any reference, either to what are, or to what ought to be the senti- 
ments of others ; and it is by means of this sophistry, that he esta- 
blishes his favourite conclusion, that private vices are public benefits. 
If the love of magnificence, a taste for the elegant arts and improve- 
ments of human life, for whatever is agreeable in dress, furniture, j 
or equipage, for architecture, statuary, painting, and music, is to be • 
regarded as luxury, sensuality, and ostentation, even in those whose 
situation allows, without any inconveniency, the indulgence of those 
passions, it is certain that luxury, sensuality, and ostentation are public 
benefits : since without the qualities upon which he thinks proper to 
bestow such opprobrious names, the arts of refinement could never find 
encouragement, and must languish for want of employment. Some 
popular ascetic doctrines which had been current before his time, and 
which placed virtue in the entire extirpation and annihilation of all our 
passions, were the real foundation of this licentious system. It was 
easy for Dr. Mandeville to prove, first, that this entire conquest never 
actually took place among men ; and secondly, that if it was to take 
place universally, it would be pernicious to society, by putting an end 
to all industry and comnlerce, and in a manner to the whole business 
of human life. By the first of these propositions, he seemed to prove 
that there was no real virtue, and that what pretended to be such, was 
a mere cheat and imposition upon mankind ; and by the second, that 
our private vices were public benefits, since without them no society 
could prosper or flourish. 

Such is the system of Dr. Mandeville, which once made so much 
noise in the world, and which, though, perhaps, it never gave occasion 
to more vice than what would have been without it, at least taught that 
vice, which arose from other causes, to appear with more effrontery, 
and to avow the corruption of its motives with a profligate audacious- 
ness which had never been heard of before. 

But how destructive soever this system may appear, it -could never 
have imposed upon so great a number of persons, nor have occasioned 
so general an alarm among those who are the friends of better princi- 
ples, had it not in some respects bordered upon the truth. A system of 


natural philosophy may appear very plausible, and be for a long time 
very generally received in the world, and yet have no foundation in 
nature, nor any sort of resemblance to the truth. The vortices of Des 
Cartes were regarded by a very ingenious nation, for near a century 
together, as a most satisfactory account of the revolutions of the 
heavenly bodies. Yet it has been demonstrated, to the conviction of 
all mankind, that these pretended causes of those wonderful effects, 
not only do not actually exist, but are utterly impossible, and if they 
did exist, could produce no such effects as are ascribed to them. But 
it is otherwise with systems of moral philosophy, and an author who 
pretends to account for the origin of our moral sentiments, cannot 
deceive us so grossly, nor depart so very far from all resemblance to 
the truth. When a traveller ^ves an account of some distant country, 
he may impose upon our credulity, the most groundless and absurd 
fictions as the most certain matters of fact But when a person pre- 
tends to inform us of what passes in our neighbourhood, and of the 
affairs of the very parish which we live in, though here too, if we are so 
careless as not to examine things with our own eyes, he may deceive us 
in many respects, yet the greatest falsehoods which he imposes upon us 
must bear some resemblance to the truth, and must even have a con- 
siderable mixture of truth in them. An author who treats of natural 
philosophy, and pretends to assign the causes of the great phenomena 
of the universe, pretends to give an \account of the affairs of a very 
distant country, concerning which he may tell us what he pleases, and 
as long as his narration keeps within the bounds of seeming possibility, 
he need not despair of gaining of belief. But when he proposes to 
explain the origin of our desires and affections, of our sentiments of 
approbation and disapprobation, he pretends to give an account, not 
only of the affairs of the very parish that we Uve in, but of our own 
domestic concerns. Though here too, like indolent masters who put 
their trust in a steward who deceives them, we are very liable to be im- 
posed upon, yet we are incapable of passing any account which does 
not preserve some little regard to the truth. Some of the articles, at 
least, must be just, and even those which are most overcharged must 
have had some foundation, otherwise the fraud would be detected even by 
that careless inspection which we are disposed to give. The author 
who should assign, as the cause of any natural sentiment, some princi- 
ple which neither had any connection with it, nor resembled any other 
principle which had some such connection, would appear absurd and 
ridiculous to the most injudicious and unexperienced reader. 


Sec III.— Of the different Systems which have keen formed 
Concerning the Principle of Approbation. 

Introduction. — ^After the inquiry concerning the nature of virtue, 
the next question of importance in Moral Philosophy, is concerning the 
principle of approbation, concerning the power or faculty of the mind 
which renders certain characters agreeable or disagreeable to us, makes 
us prefer one tenor of conduct to another, denominate the one right and 
the other wrong, and consider the one as the object of approbation, 
honour, and reward, or the other as that of blame, censure, and 

Three different accounts have been given of this principle of appro- 
bation. According to some, we approve and disapprove both of our 
own actions and of those of others, from self-love only, or from some 
view of their tendency to our own happiness or disadvantage : accord- 
ing to others, reason, the same faculty by which we distinguish be- 
tween truth and falsehood, enables us to distinguish between what 
is fit and unfit both in actions and afiections : according to others, 
this distinction is altogether the effect of immediate sentiment and feel- 
ing, and arises from the satisfaction or disgust with which the view of 
certain actions or affections inspires us. Self-love, reason and senti- 
ment, therefore, are the three different sources which have been as- 
signed for the principle of approbation. 

Before I proceed to give an account of those different 'systems, I * 
must observe, that the determination of this second question, though 
of the greatest importance in speculation, is of none in practice. The 
question concerning the nature of virtue necessarily has some influence 
upon our notions of right and wrong in many particular cases. That 
concerning the principle of approbation can possibly have no such 
effect. To examine from what contrivance or mechanism within, those 
different notions or sentiments arise, is a mere matter of philosophical 

Chap. I. — Of those Systems which deduce the Principle of Approbation 
from Self-love, 

Those who account for the principle of approbation from self-love, do 
not all account for it in the same manner, and there is a good deal of 
confusion and inaccuracy in all their different systems. According to 
Mr. Hobbes, and many of his followers (Puffendorff", Mandeville), man 
is driven to take refuge in society, not by any natural love which he 
l>ears to his own kind, but because without the assistance of others he 
is incapable of subsisting with ease or safety. Society, upon this 
account, becomes necessary to him, and whatever tends to its support 
and welfare^ he considers as having a remote tendency to his own 


interest ; and, on the contrary, whatever is likely to disturb or destroy 
it, he regards as in some measure hurtful or pernicious to himself. 
Virtue is the great support, and vice the great disturber of human 
society. The former, therefore, is agreeable, and the latter offensive to 
every man ; as from the one he foresees the prosperity, and from the 
other the ruin and disorder of what is so necessary for the comfort and 
the security of his existence. 

That the tendency of virtue to promote, and of vice to disturb the 
order of society, when we consider it coolly and philosophically, reflects 
a very great beauty upon the one, and a very great deformity upon the 
other, cannot, as I have observed upon a former occasion, be called in 
question. Human society, when we contemplate it in a certain abstract 
and philosophical light, appears like a great, an inmiense machine, 
whose regular and harmonious movements produce a thousand agree- 
able effects. As in any other beautiful and noble machine that was 
the production of human art, whatever tended to render its movements 
more smooth and easy, would derive a beauty from this effect, and, on 
the contrary, whatever tended to obstruct them would displease upon 
that account : so virtue, which is, as it were, the fine polish to the 
wheels of society, necessarily pleases ; while vice, like the vile rust, 
which makes them jar and grate upon one another, is as necessarily 
offensive. This account, therefore, of the origin of approbation and 
disapprobation, so far as it derives them from a regard to the order of 
society, runs into that principle which gives beauty to utihty, and which 
I have" explained upon a former occasion ; and it is from thence that 
this system derives all that appearance of probability which it possesses. 
When those authors describe the innumerable advantages of a culti- 
vated and social, above a savage and solitary Ufe ; when they expatiate 
upon the necessity of virtue and good order for the maintenance of the 
one, and demonstrate how infallibly the prevalence of vice and disobedi- 
ence to the laws tend to bring back the other, the reader is charmed with 
the novelty and grandeur of those views which they open to him : he 
sees plainly a new beauty in virtue, and a new deformity in vice, which 
he had never taken notice of before, and is commonly so delighted with 
the discovery, that he seldom takes time to reflect, that this political 
view having never occurred to him in his Ufe before, cannot possibly be 
the ground of that approbation and disapprobation with which he has 
been accustomed to consider those different qualities. 

When those authors, on the other hand, deduce from self-love the 
interest which we take in the welfare of society, and the esteem which 
upon that account we bestow upon virtue, they do not mean, that when 
we in this age applaud the virtue of Cato, and detest the villany of 
Cataline, our sentiments are influenced by the notion of any benefit we 
receive from the one, or of any detriment we suffer from the other. It 
was not because the prosperity or subversion of society, in those remote 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 281 

ages and nations, was apprehended to have any influence upon our 
happiness or misery in the present times ; that according to those 
philosophers, we esteemed the virtuous and blamed the disorderly 
character. They never imagined that our sentiments were influenced 
by any benefit or damage which we suppposed actually to redound to 
us, from either ; but by that which might have redounded to us, had - 
we lived in those distant ages and countries ; or by that which might 
still redound to us, if in our own times we should meet with characters 
of the same kind. The idea, in short, which those authors were grop- 
ing about, but which they were never able to unfold distinctly, was that 
indirect sympathy which we feel with the gratitude or resentment of 
those who received the benefit or suffered the damage resulting from 
such opposite characters : and it was this which they were indistinctly 
pointing at, when they said, that it was not the thought of what we had 
gained or suffered which prompted our applause or indignation, but the 
conception or imagination of what we might gain or suffer if we were to 
act in society with such associates. 

Sympathy, however, cannot, in any sense, be regarded as a selfish 
principle. When I sympathize with your sorrow or your indignation, 
it may be pretended, indeed, that my emotion is founded in self-love, 
because it arises from bringing your case home to myself, from putting 
myself in your situation, and thence conceiving what I should feel in 
the like circumstances. But though sympathy is very properly said to 
arise from an imaginary change of situations with the person principally 
concerned, yet this imaginary change is not supposed to happen to me 
in my own person and character, but in that of the person with whom 
I sympathize. When I condole with you for the loss of your only son, 
in order to enter into your grief I do not consider what I, a person of 
such a character and profession, should suffer, if I had a son, and if 
that son was unfortunately to die ; but I consider what I should suffer 
if I was really you, and I not only change circumstances with you, but 
I change persons and characters. My grief, therefore, is entirely upon 
your account, and not in the least upon my own. It is not, therefore 
in the least selfish. How can that be regarded as a selfish passion, 
which does not arise even from the imagination of any thing that has 
befallen, or that relates to myself, in my own proper person and 
character, but which is entirely occupied about what relates to you? A 
man may sympathize with a woman in child-bed ; though it is impos- 
sible that he should conceive himself as suffering her pains in his own 
proper person and character. That whole account of human nature, 
however, which deduces all sentiments and affections from self-love? 
which has made so much noise in the world, but which, so far as I 
know, ha^ never yet been fully and distinctly explained, seems to me to 
have arisen from some confused misapprehension of the system of 



Chap. 11,— -Of those Systems which make Reason the Principle of 

It is well known to have been the doctrine of Mr. Hobbes, that a state 
of nature is a state of war; and that antecedent to the institution of 
civil government, there could be no safe or peaceable society among 
men. To preserve society, therefore, according to him, was to support 
civil government, and to destroy civil government was the same thing 
as to put an end to society. But the existence of civil government 
depends upon the obedience that is paid to the supreme magistrate. 
The moment he loses his authority, all govenmient is at an end. As 
self-preservation, therefore, teaches men to applaud whatever tends to 
prcnnote the welfare of society, and to blame whatever is likely to hurt 
it; so the same principle, if they would think and speak consistently, 
ought to teach them to applaud upon all occasions obedience to the 
civil magistrate, and to blame all disobedience and rebellion. The very 
ideas of laudable and blamable, ought to be the same with those of 
obedience and disobedience. The laws of the civil magistrate, there- 
fore, ought to be regarded as the sole ultimate standards of what was 
just and unjust, of what was right and wrong. 

It was the avowed intention of Mr. Hobbes, by propagating these 
notions, to subject the consciences of men immediately to the civil, and 
not to the ecclesiastical powers, whose turbulence and ambition, he had 
been taught, by the example of his own times, to regard as the principal 
source of the disorders of society. His doctrine, upon this account, 
was peculiarly offensive to theologians, who accordingly did not fail to 
vent their indignation against him with great asperity and bitterness. 
It was likewise offensive to all sound moralists, as it supposed that 
there was no natural distinction between right and wrong, that these 
were mutable and changeable, and depended upon the mere arbitrary 
will of the civil magistrate. This account of things, therefore, was 
attacked from all quarters, and by all sorts of weapons, by sober reason 
as well as by furious declamation. 

In order to confute so odious a doctrine, it was necessary to prove, 
that antecedent to all law or positive institution, the mind was naturally 
endowed with a faculty, by which it distinguished in certain actions and 
affections, the qualities of right, laudable, and virtuous, and in others 
those of wrong, blamable, and vicious. 

Law, it was justly observed by Dr. Cudworth (Inmiutable Morality, 
Li), could not be the original source of those distinctions; since upon 
the supposition of such a law, it must either be right to obey it, and 
wrong to disobey it, or indifferent whether we obeyed it or disobeyed 
it That law which it was indifferent whether we obeyed or disobeyed, 
could not, it was evident, be the source of those distinctions ; neither 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 283 

could that which it was right to obey and wrong to disobey, since even 
this still supposed the antecedent notions or ideas of right and wrong, 
and that obedience to the law was conformable to the idea of right, and 
disobedience to that of wrong. 

Since the mind, therefore, had a notion of those distinctions ante- 
cedent to all law, it seemed necessarily to follow, that it derived this 
notion from reason, which pointed out the difiference between right and 
wrong, in the same manner in which it did that between truth and false- 
hood: and this conclusion, which, though true in some respects, is 
rather hasty in others, was more easily received at a time when the 
abstract science of human nature was but in its infancy, and before the 
distinct offices and powers of the different faculties of the human mind 
had been carefully examined and distinguished from one another. 
When this controversy with Mr. Hobbes was carried on with the 
greatest warmth and keenness, no other faculty had been thought of 
from which any such ideas could possibly be supposed to arise. It 
became at this time, therefore, the popular doctrine, that the essence of 
virtue and vice did not consist in the conformity or disagreement of 
human actions with the law of a superior, but in their conformity or 
disagreement with reason, which was thus considered as the original 
source and principle of approbation and disapprobation. 

That virtue consists in conformity to reason, is true in some respects, 
and this faculty may very justly be considered as, in some sense, the 
source and principle of approbation and disapprobation, and of all solid 
judgments concerning right and wrong. It is by reason that we dis- 
cover those general rules of justice by which we ought to regulate our 
actions : and it is by the same faculty that we form those more vague 
and indeterminate ideas of what is prudent, of what is decent, of what 
is generous or noble, which we carry constantly about with us, and 
according to which we endeavour, as well as we can, to model the 
tenor of ourx:onduct The general maxims of morality are formed, Uke 
all other general maxims, from experience and induction. We observe 
in a great variety of particular cases what pleases or displeases our 
moral faculties, what these approve or disapprove of, and, by induction 
from this experience, we establish those general rules. But induction 
is always regarded as one of the operations of reason. From reason, 
therefore, we are very properly said to derive all those general maxims 
and ideas. It is by these, however, that we regulate the greater part 
of our moral judgments, which would be extremely uncertain and pre- 
carious if they depended altogether upon what is liable to so many 
variations as immediate sentiment and feeling, which the different 
states of health and humour are capable of altering so essentially. As 
our post solid judgments, therefore, with regard to right and wrong, 
are regulated by maxims and ideas derived from an induction of 
reason, virtue may very properly be said to consist in a conformity to 



reason, and so far this facility may be considered as the source and 
principle of approbation and disapprobation. 

But though reason is undoubtedly the source of the general rules of 
morality, and of all the moral judgments which we form by means of 
them ; it is altogether absurd and uninteUigible to suppose that the first 
perceptions of right and wrong can be derived from reason, even in 
those particular cases upon the experience of which the general rules 
are formed. These first perceptions, as well as all other experiments 
upon which any general rules are founded, cannot be the object of 
reason, but of immediate sense and feeling. It is by finding in a vast 
variety of instances that one tenor of conduct constantly pleases in a 
certain maimer, and that another as constantly displeases the mind, 
that we form the general rules of morality, fiut reason cannot render 
any particular object either agreeable or disagreeable to the mind for 
its own sake. Reason may show that this object is the means of ob- 
taining some other which is naturally either pleasing or displeasing, 
and in this manner may render it either agreeable or disagreeable for 
the sake of something else. But nothing can be agreeable or disagree- 
able for its own sake, which is not rendered such by immediate sense 
and feeling. If virtue, therefore, in every particular instance, neces- 
sarily pleases for its own sake, and if vice as certainly displeases the 
mind, it cannot be reason, but immediate sense and feeling, which 
thus reconciles us to the one, and alienates us from the other. 

Pleasure and pain are the great objects of desire and aversion; but 
these are distinguished, not by reason, but by immediate sense and 
feeling. If virtue, therefore, be desirable for its own sake, and if vice 
be, in the same manner, the object of aversion, it cannot be reason 
which originally distinguishes those different qualities, but inamediate 
sense and feeling. 

As reason, however, in a certain sense, may justly be considered as 
the principle of approbation and disapprobation, these sentiments were, 
through inattention, long regarded as originally flowing from the opera- 
tions of this faculty. Dr. Hutcheson had the merit of being the first 
who distinguished with any degree of precision in what respect all 
moral distinctions may be said to arise from reason, and in what re- 
spect they are founded upon immediate sense and feeling. In his 
illustrations upon the moral sense he has explained this so fully, and, 
in my opinion, so unanswerably, that, if any controversy is still kept up 
about this subject, I can impute it to nothing, but either to inattention 
to what that gentleman has written, or to a superstitious attachment to 
certain forms of expression, a weakness not very uncommon among the 
learned, especially in subjects so deeply interesting as the present, in 
which a man of virtue is often loath to abandon even the propriety of 
a single phrase which he has been accustomed to. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 285 

Chap. III. — Of those Systems which make Sentiment the Principle 
of Approbation, 

Those systems which make sentiment the principle of approbation 
may be divided into two different classes. 

I. According to some the principle of approbation is founded upon a 
sentiment of a pectiliar nature, upon a particular power of perception 
exerted by the mind at the view of certain actions or affections ; some 
of which affecting this faculty in an agreeable and others in a disagree- 
able manner, the former are stamped with the characters of right, 
laudable, and virtuous ; the latter with those of wrong, blamable, and 
vicious. This sentiment being of a peculiar nature distinct from every 
other, and the effect of a particular power of perception, they give it a 
particular name, and call it a moral sense. 

II. According to others, in order to account for the principle of ap- 
probation, there is no occasion for supposing any new power of per- 
ception which had never been heard of before : Nature, they imagine 
acts here, as in all other cases, with the strictest oeconomy, and pro- 
duces a multitude of effects from one and the same cause ; and sym- 
pathy, a power which has always been taken notice of, and with which 
the mind is manifestly endowed, is, they think, sufficient to account for 
all the effects ascribed to this peculiar faculty. 

I. Dr. Hutcheson (Inquiry concerning Virtue) had been at great 
pains to prove that the principle of approbation was not founded on 
self-love. He had demonstrated, too, that it could not arise from any 
operation of reason. Nothing remained, he thought, but to suppose 
it a faculty of a peculiar kind, with which Nature had endowed the 
human mind, in order to produce this one particular and important 
effect. When self-love and reason were both excluded, it did not occur 
to him that there was any other known faculty of the mind which could 
in any respect answer this purpose. 

This new power of perception he called a moral sense, and supposed 
it to be somewhat analogous to the external senses. As the bodies 
around us, by affecting these in a certain manner, appear to possess 
the different qualities of sound, taste, odour, colour; so the various 
affections of the human mind, by touching this particular faculty in a 
certain manner, appear to possess the different qualities of amiable and 
odious, of virtuous and vicious, of right and wrong. 

The various senses or powers of perception (Treatise of the Pas- 
sions) from which the human mind derives all its simple ideas, were, 
according to this system, of two different kinds, of which the one were 
called the direct or antecedent, the other, the reflex or consequent 
senses. The direct senses were those faculties from which the mind 
derived the perception of such species of things as did not presuppose 


the antecedent perception of any other. Thus sounds and colours were 
objects of the direct senses. To hear a sound or to see a colour does 
not presuppose the antecedent perception of any other quality or object 
The reflex or consequent senses, on the other hand, were those faculties 
from which the mind derived the perception of such species of things 
as presupposed the antecedent perception of some other. Thus har- 
mony and beauty were objects of the reflex senses. In order to per- 
ceive the harmony of a sound, or the beauty of a colour, we must first 
perceive the sound or the colour. The moral sense was considered as 
a faculty of this kind. That faculty, which Mr. Locke calls reflection, 
and from which he derived the simple ideas of the different passions 
and emotions of the human mind, was, according to Dr. Hutcheson, a 
direct internal sense. That faculty again by which we perceived the 
beauty or deformity, the virtue or vice, of those different passions and 
emotions, was'a reflex, internal sense. 

Dr. Hutcheson endeavoured still further to support this doctrine, by 
showing that it was agreeable to the analogy of nature, and that the 
mind was endowed with a variety of other reflex senses exactly similar 
to the moral sense ; such as a sense of beauty and deformity in external 
objects ; a public sense, by which we sympathize with the happiness or 
misery of our fellow-creatures ; a sense of shame and honour, and a 
sense of ridicule. 

But notwithstanding all the pains which this ingenious philosopher 
has taken to prove that the principle of approbation is founded in a 
peculiar power of perception, somewhat analogous to the external 
senses, there are some consequences, which he acknowledges to follow 
from this doctrine, that will, perhaps, be regarded by many as a suffi- 
cient confutation of it The qualities, he allows,* which belong to the 
objects of any sense, cannot, without the greatest absurdity, be ascribed 
to the sense itself. Who ever thought of calling the sense of seeing 
black or white, the sense of hearing loud or low, or the sense of tasting 
sweet or bitter ? And, according to him, it is equally absurd to call 
our moral faculties virtuous or vicious, morally good or evil These 
qualities belong to the objects of those faculties, not to the faculties 
Uiemselves. If any man, therefore, was so absurdly constituted as to 
approve of cruelty and injustice as the highest virtues, and to disap- 
prove of equity and humanity as the most pitiful vices, such a constitu- 
tion of mind might indeed be regarded as inconvenient both to the 
individual and to the society, and likewise as strange, surprising, and 
unnatural in itself; but it could not, without the greatest absurdity, be 
denominated vicious or morally evil 

Yet surely if we saw any man shouting with admiration and applause 
at a barbarous and unmerited execution, which some insolent tyrant 
had ordered, we should not think we were guilty of any great absurdity 

* Illustrations upon the Moral Sense, sect. z. p. 337, eC seq.; third edition. 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. tSj 

in denominating this behaviour vicious and morally evil in the highest 
degree, though it expressed nothing but depraved moral faculties, or as 
absurd approbation of this horrid action, as of what was noble, mag- 
nanimous, and great Our heart, I imagine, at the sight of such a 
spectator, would forget for a while its sympathy with the sufferer, and 
feel nothing but horror and detestation, at the thought of so execrable 
a wretch. We should abominate him even more than the tyrant who 
might be goaded on by the strong passions of jealousy, fear, and 
resentment, and upon that account be more excusable. But the senti- 
ments of the spectator would appear altogether without cause or motive, 
and therefore most perfectly and completely detestable. There is no 
perversion of sentiment or affection which our heart would be more 
averse to enter into, or which it would reject with greater hatred* and 
indignation than one of this kind ; and so far from regarding such a 
constitution of mind as being merely something strange or inconvenient, 
and not in any respect vicious or morally evil, we should rather con- 
sider it as the very last and most dreadful stage of depravity. 

Coirect moral sentiments, on the contrary, naturally appear in some 
degree laudable and morally good. The man, whose censure and 
applause are upon all occasions suited with the greatest accuracy to the 
value or unworthiness of the object, seems to deserve a degree even of 
moral approbation. We admire the delicate precision of his moral 
sentiments : they lead our own judgments^ and, upon account of their 
uncommon and surprising justness, they even excite our wonder and 
applause. We cannot indeed be always sure that the conduct of such 
a person would be in any respect correspondent to the precision and 
accuracy of his judgment concerning the conduct of others. Virtue 
requires habit and resolution of mind, as well as delicacy of senti- 
ment ; and unfortunately the former qualities are sometimes wanting, 
where the latter is in the greatest perfection. This disposition of mind, 
however, though it may sometimes be attended with imperfections, is 
incompatible with any thing that is grossly criminal, and is the happiest 
foundation upon which the superstructure of perfect virtue can be 
built There are many men who mean very well, and seriously pur- 
pose to do what they think their duty, who notwithstanding are dis- 
agreeable because of the coarseness of their moral sentiments. 

It may be said, perhaps, that though the principle of approbation is 
not founded upon any perception that is in any respect analogous to 
the external senses, it may stiU be founded upon a peculiar sentiment 
which answers this one particular purpose and no other. Approbation 
and disapprobation, it may be pretended, are certain feelings or emo- 
tions which arise in the mind upon the view of different characters 
and actions ; and as resentment might be called a sense of injuries, or 
gratitude a sense of benefits, so these may very properly receive the 
name of a sense of right and wrong, or of a moral sense. 


But this account of things, though it may not be liable to the same 
objections with the foregoing, is exposed to others which may be 
equally unanswerable. 

First of all, whatever variations any particular emotion may undergo, 
it still preserves the general features which distinguish it to be an 
emotion of such a kind, and these general features are always more 
striking and remarkable than any variation which it may undergo in 
particular cases. Thus anger is an emotion of a particular kind : and 
accordingly its general features are always^ more distinguishable than 
all the variations it undergoes in particular cases. Anger against a 
man is, no doubt, somewhat different from anger against a woman, and 
that again from anger against a child. In each of those three cases, 
the general passion of anger receives a different modification from the 
particular character of its object, as may easily be observed by the 
attentive. But still the general features of the passion predominate in 
all these cases. To distinguish these, requires no nice observation : a 
very delicate attention, on the contrary, is necessary to discover their 
variations : every body takes notice of the former ; scarce any body 
observes the latter. • If approbation and disapprobation, therefore, 
were, like gratitude and resentment, emotions of a particular kind, 
distinct from every other, we should expect that in all the variations 
which either of them might undergo, it would still retain the general 
features which mark it to be an emotion of such a particular kind, clear, 
plain and easily distinguishable. But in fact it happens quite other- 
wise. If we attend to what we really feel when upon different occa- 
sions we either approve or disapprove, we shall find that our emotion 
in one case is often totally different from that in another, and that no 
common features can possibly be discovered between them. Thus the 
approbation with which we view a tender, delicate, and humane senti- 
ment, is quite different from that with which we are struck by one that 
appears great, daring, and magnanimous. Our approbation of both 
may, upon different occasions, be perfect and entire ; but we are soflened 
by the one, and we are elevated by the other, and there is no sort of re- 
semblance between the emotions which they excite in us. But, accord- 
ing to that system which I have been endeavouring to establish, this 
must necessarily be the case. As the emotions of the person whom we 
approve of, are, in those two cases, quite opposite to one another, and 
as our approbation arises from sympathy with those opposite emotions, 
what we feel upon the one occasion, can have no sort of resemblance 
to what we feel upon the other. But this could not happen if approba- 
tion consisted in a peculiar emotion which had nothing in common with 
the sentiments we approved of, but which arose at the view of those 
sentiments, like any other passion at the view of its proper object 
The same thing holds true with regard to disapprobation. Our horror 
for cruelty has no sort of resemblance to our contempt for mean- 


spiritedness. It is quite a different species of discord which we feel at 
the view of those two different vices, between our own minds and those 
of the person whose sentiments and behaviour we consider. 

Secondly, I have already observed, that not only the different 
passions or affections of the human mind which are approved or dis- 
approved of, appear morally good or evil, but that proper and improper 
approbation appear, to our natural sentiments, to be stamped with the 
same characters. I would ask, therefore, how it is, that, according to 
this system, we approve or disapprove of proper or improper approba- 
tion ? To this question there is, I imagine, but one reasonable answer 
which can possibly be given. It must be said, that when the approba- 
tion with which our neighbour regards the conduct of a third person 
coincides with our own, we approve of his approbation, and consider it 
as, in some measure, morally good ; and that, on the contrary, when it 
does not coincide with our own sentiments, we disapprove of it, and 
consider it as, in some measure, morally evil It must be allowed, 
therefore, that, at least in this one case, the coincidence or opposition 
of sentiment, between the observer and the person observed, constitutes 
moral approbation or disapprobation. And if it does so in this one 
case, I would ask, why not in every other? to what purpose imagine a 
new power of perception in order to account for those sentiments ? 

Against every account of the principle of approbation, which makes 
it depend upon a peculiar sentiment, distinct from every other, I would 
object that it is strange that this sentiment, which Providence un- 
doubtedly intended to be the governing principle of human nature, 
should hitherto have been so little taken notice of, as not to have got a 
name in any language. The word Moral Sense is of very late forma- 
tion, and cannot yet be considered as making part of the English 
tongue. The word Approbation has but within these few years been 
appropriated to denote peculiarly any thing of this kind. In propriety 
of language we approve of whatever is entirely to our satisfaction, of 
the form of a building, of the contrivance of a machine, of the flavour 
of a dish of meat The word Conscience does not immediately denote 
any moral faculty by which we approve or disapprove. Conscience 
supposes, indeed, the existence of some such faculty, and properly sig- 
nifies our consciousness of having acted agreeably or contrary to its 
directions. When love, hatred, joy, sorrow, gratitude, resentment, 
with so many other passions which are all supposed to be the subjects 
of this principle, have made themselves considerable enough to get 
titles to know them by, is it not surprising that the sovereign of them 
all should hitherto have been so little heeded, that, a few philosophers 
excepted, nobody has yet thought it worth while to bestow a name 
upon that principle. 

When we approve of any character or action, the sentiments which 
we feel, are, according to the foregoing system, derived from four 


sources, which are in some respects different from cmc another. First, 
we sympathize with the motives of the agent ; secondly, we enter into 
the gratitude of those who receive the benefit of his actions ; thirdly, 
we observe that his conduct has been agreeable to the general rules by 
which those two sympathies generally act ; and, last of all, when we 
consider such actions as making a part of a system of behaviour which 
tends to promote the happiness either of the individual or of the 
society, they appear to derive a beauty from this utility, not unlike that 
which we ascribe to any well-contrived machine. After deducting, in 
any one particular case, all that must be acknowledged to proceed from 
some one or other oi these four principles, I should be glad to know 
what remains, and I shall freely allow this overplus to be ascribed to a 
moral sense, or to any other peculiar faculty, provided any body will 
ascertain precisely what this overplus is. It might be expected, per- 
haps, that if there was any such peculiar principle, such as this moral 
sense is supposed to be, we should feel it, in some particular cases, 
separated and detached from every other, as we often feel joy, sorrow, 
hope, and fear, pure and unmixed with any other emotion. This, how- 
ever, I imagine, cannot even be pretended. I have never heard any 
instance alleged in which this principle could be said to exert itself 
alone and unmixed with sympathy or antipathy, with gratitude or 
resentment, with the perception of the agreement or disagreement of 
any action to an established rule, or last of all, with that general taste 
for beauty and order which is excited by inanimated as well as by 
animated objects. 

II. There is another system which attempts to account for the origin 
of our moral sentiments from S3rmpathy, distinct from that which I 
have been endeavouring to establish. It is that which places virtue in 
utility, and accounts for the pleasure with which the spectator surveys 
the utility of any quality from sympathy with the happiness of those 
who are affected by it This sympathy is diffferent both from that by 
which we enter into the motives of the agent, and from that by which 
we go along with the gratitude of the persons who are benefited by his 
actions. It is the same principle with that ^y which we approve of a 
well-contrived machine. But no machine can be the object of either 
of those two last'-mentioned sympathies. I have already, in the fourth 
part of this discourse, given some account of this system. 

Sec IV. — Of the Manner in which different Authors have 


It was observed in the third part of this discourse, that the rules of 
justice are the only rules of morality which are precise and accurate ; 
that those of all the other virtues are loose, vague, and indeterminate ; 


that the first may be compared to the rules of grammar ; the others to 
those which critics lay down for the attainment of what is sublime and 
elegant in composition, and which present us rather with a general idea 
of the perfection we ought to aim at, than afford us any certain and 
infallible directions for acquiring it 

As the different rules of morality admit such different degrees of 
accuracy, those authors who have endeavoured to collect and digest 
them into systems haVe done it in two different manners ; and one set 
has followed through the whole that loose method to which they were 
naturally directed by the consideration of one species of virtues ; while 
another has as universally endeavoured to introduce into their precepts 
that sort of accuracy of which only some of them are susceptible. The 
first have written like critics, the second like grammarians. 

I. The first, among whom we may count all the ancient moralists, 
have contented themselves with describing in a general manner the 
different vices and virtues, and with pointing out the deformity and 
misery of the one disposition, as well as the propriety and happiness of 
the other, but have not affected to lay down many precise rules that 
are to hold good unexceptionally in all particular cases. They have 
only endeavoured to ascertain, as far as language is capable of ascer- 
taining, first, wherein consists the sentiment of the heart, upon which 
each particular virtue is founded, what sort of internal feeling or 
emotion it is which constitutes the essence of friendship, of humanity, 
of generosity, of justice, of magnanimity, and of all the other virtues, 
as well as of the vices which are opposed to them : and, secondly, 
what is the general way of acting, the ordinary tone and tenor of con- 
duct to which each of those sentiments would direct us, or how it is 
that a friendly, a generous, a brave, a just, and a humane man, would 
upon ordinary occasions, choose to act 

To characterize the sentiment of the heart, upon which each particu- 
lar virtue is founded, though it requires both a delicate and an accurate 
pencil, is a task, however, which may be executed with some degree of 
exactness. It is impossible, indeed, to express all the variations which 
each sentiment either does or ought to undergo^ according to every 
possible variation of circumstances. They are endless, and language 
wants names to mark them by. The sentiment of friendship, for 
example, which we feel for an old man is different from that which we 
feel for a young : that which we entertain for an austere man different 
from that which we feel for one of softer and gentler manners : and 
that again from what we feel for one of gay vivacity and spirit The 
friendship which we conceive for a man is different from that with 
which a woman affects us, even where there is no mixture of any 
grosser passion. What author could enumerate and ascertain these 
and all the other infinite varieties which this sentiment is capable of 
undergoing ? But still the general sentiment of friendship and familiar 


attachment which is common to them all, may be ascertained with a 
sufficient degree of accuracy. The picture which is drawn of it, though 
it will always be in many respects incomplete, may, however, have such 
a resemblance as to make us know the original when we meet with it, 
and even distinguish it from other sentiments to which it has a con- 
siderable resemblance, such as good-will, respect, admiration. 

To describe, in a general manner, what is the ordinary way of acting 
to which each virtue would prompt us, is still more easy. It is, indeed, 
scarce possible to describe the internal sentiment or emotion upon 
which it is founded, without doing something of this kind. It is 
impossible by language to express, if I may say so, the invisible features 
of all the different modifications of passion as they show themselves 
within. There is no other way of marking and distinguishing them from 
one another, but by describing the effects which they produce without, 
the alterations which they occasion in the countenance, in the air and 
external behaviour, the resolutions they suggest, the actions they prompt 
to. It is thus that Cicero, in the first book of his Offices, endeavours 
to direct us to the practice of the four cardinal virtues, and that Aris- 
totle in the practical parts of his Ethics, points out to us the different 
habits by which he would have us regulate our behaviour, such as liber- 
ality, magnificence, magnanimity, and even jocularity and good humour, 
qualities which that indulgent philosopher has thought worthy of a place 
in the catalogue of the virtues, though the Ughtness of that approbation 
which we naturally bestow upon them, should not seem to entitle them 
to so venerable a name. 

Such works present us with agreeable and lively pictures of manners. 
By the vivacity of their descriptions they inflame our natural love of 
virtue, and increase our abhorrence of vice : by the justness as well as 
delicacy of their observations they may often help both to correct and 
to ascertain our natural sentiments with regard to the propriety of con- 
duct, and suggesting many nice and delicate attentions, form us to a 
more exact justness of behaviour, than what, without such instruction, 
we should have been apt to think of. In treating of the rules of 
morality, in this manner, consists the science which is properly called 
Ethics, a science which, though like criticism, it does not admit of the 
most accurate precision, is, however, both highly useful and agreeable. 
It is of all others the most susceptible of the embellishments of elo- 
quence, and by means of them of bestowing, if that be possible, a new 
importance upon the smallest rules of duty. Its precepts, when thus 
dressed and adorned, are capable of producing upon the flexibility of 
youth, the noblest and most lasting impressions, and as they fall in with 
the natural magnanimity of that generous age, they are able to inspire, 
for a time at least, the most heroic resolutions, and thus tend both to 
establish and confirm the best and most useful habits of which the mind 
of man is susceptible. Whatever precept and exhortation can do to 

smith's theory of moral sentiments, 293 

animate us to the practice of virtue, is done by this science delivered in 
this manner. 

II. The second set of moralists, among whom we may count all the 
casuists of the middle and latter ages of the Christian church, as well 
as all those who in this and in the preceding century have treated of 
what is called natural jurisprudence, do not content themselves with 
characterizing in this general manner that tenor of conduct which they 
would recommend to us, but endeavour to lay down exact and precise 
rules for the direction of every circumstance of our behaviour. As 
justice is the only virtue with regard to which such exact rules can pro- 
perly be given ; it is this virtue, that has chiefly fallen under the con- 
sideration of those two different sets of writers. They treat of it, 
however, in a very different manner. 

Those who write upon the principles of jurisprudence, consider only 
what the person to whom the obhgation is due, ought to think himself 
entitled to exact by force ; what every impartial spectator would approve 
of him for exacting, or what a judge or arbiter, to whom he had sub- 
mitted his case, and who had undertaken to do him justice, ought to 
oblige the other person to suffer or to perform. The casuists, on the 
other hand, do not so much examine what it is, that might properly be 
exacted by force, as what it is, that the person who owes the obligation 
ought to think himself bound to perform from the most sacred and 
scrupulous regard to the general rules of justice, and from the most 
conscientious dread, either of wronging his neighbour, or of violating 
the integrity of his own character. It is the end of jurisprudence to 
prescribe rules for the decisions of judges and arbiters. It is the end 
of casuistry to prescribe rules for the conduct of a good man. By 
observing all the rules of jurisprudence, supposing them ever so perfect, 
we should deserve nothing but to be free from external punishment 
By observing those of casuistry, supposing them such as they ought to 
be, we should be entitled to considerable praise by the exact and 
scrupulous delicacy of our behaviour. 

It may frequently happen that a good man ought to think himself 
bound, from a sacred and conscientious regard to the general rules of 
justice, to perform many things which it would be the highest injustice 
to extort from him, or for any judge or arbiter to impose upon him by 
force. To give a trite example ; a highwayman, by the fear of death, 
obliges a traveller to promise him a certain sum money. Whether 
such a promise, extorted in this manner by force, ought to be regarded 
as obligatory, is a question that has been much debated. 

If we consider it merely as a question of jurisprudence, the decision 
can admit of no doubt. It would be absurd to suppose that the high- 
wayman can be entitled to use force to constrain the other to perform. 
To extort the promise was a crime which deserved the highest punish- 
menty and to extort the performance would only be adding a new crime 


to the former. He can complain of no injury who has been only 
deceived by the person by whom he might justly have been killed. To 
suppose that a judge ought to enforce the obligation of such promises, 
or that the magistrate ought to allow them to sustain action at law, 
would be the most ridiculous of all absurdities. If we consider this 
question, therefore, as a question of jurisprudence, we can be at no loss 
about the decision. 

But if we consider it as a question of casuistry, it will not be so easily 

i determined. Whether a good man, from a conscientious regard to that 
most 'sacred rule of justice, which commands the observance of all 
serious promises, would not think himself bound to perform, is at least 
much more doubtful That no r^ard is due to the disappointment of 
the wretch 'who brings him into this situation, that no injury is done to 
the robber, and consequently that nothing can be extorted by force, 
will admit of no sort of dispute. But whether some regard is not, in 
this case, due to his own dignity and honour, to the inviolable sacred- 
ness of that part of his character which makes him reverence the law 
of truth and abhor every thing that approaches to treachery and false- 
hood, may, perhaps, more reasonably be made a question. The casuists 
accordingly are greatly divided about it One party, with whom we 
may count Cicero among the ancients, among the modems, Pufifendorf, 
Barbeyrac his commentator, and above all the late Dr. Hutcheson, one 
who in most cases was by no means a loose casuist, determine, without 
any hesitation, that no sort of regard is due to any such promise, and 
that to think otherwise is mere weakness and superstition. Another 
party, among whom we may reckon (St Augustine, La Placette) some 
of the ancient fathers of the church, as well as some very eminent 
■modem casuists, have been of another opinion, and have judged all 
such promises obligatory. 

If we consider the matter according to the common sentiments of 
mankind, we shall find that some regard would be thought due even to 
a promise of this kind; but that it is impossible to determine how 
much, by any general rule that will apply to all cases without exception. 
The man who was quite frank and easy in making promises of this 
kind, and who violated them with as little ceremony, we should not 
choose for our friend and companion. A gentleman who should pro- 
mise a highwayman five pounds and not perform, would incur some 
blame. If the sum promised, however, was very great, it might be 
more doubtful what was proper to be done. If it was such, for ex- 
ample, that the payment of it would entirely ruin the family of the 
promiser, if it was so great as to be sufficient for promoting the most 
useful purposes, it would appear in some measure criminal, at least 

'* extremely improper, to throw it for the sake ctf a punctilio into such 
worthless hands. The man who should beggar himself, or who shouki 
throw away an hundred thousand pounds, though he could afford that 

smith's theory of moral SENTiMiaa's. 29s 

xacst sum, for the sake of observing such a parole with a thief, would 
appear to the common sense of mankind, absurd and extravagant in 
^e highest degree. Such profusion would seem inconsistent with 
his duty, with what he owed both to himself and others, and what, 
therefore, regard to a promise extorted in this manner, could by no 
means authorise. To fix, however, by any precise rule, what degree of 
regard ought to be paid to it, or what might be the greatest sum which 
could be due from it, is evidently impossible. This would vary accord- 
ing to the characters of the persons, according to their circumstances, 
according to the solemnity of the promise, and even according to the 
incidents of the rencounter : and if the promiser had been treated with 
a great deal of that sort of gallantry, which is sometimes to be met 
with in persons of the most abandoned characters, more would seem 
due than upon other occasions. It may be said in general, that exact 
propriety requires the observance of all such promises, wherever it is 
not inconsistent with some other duties that are more sacred ; such as 
regard to the public interest, to those whom gratitude, whom natural 
affection, or whom the laws of proper beneficence should prompt us to 
provide for. But, as was formerly taken notice of, we have no precise 
rules to determine what external actions are due from a regard to such 
motives, nor, consequently, when it is that those virtues are inconsistent 
with the observance of such promises. 

It is to be -observed, however, that whenever such promises are 
violated, though for the most necessary reasons, it is always with some 
degree of dishonour to the person who made them. After they are 
made, we may be convinced of the impropriety of observing them. 
But still there is some fault* in having made them. It is at least a 
departure from the highest and noblest maxims of magnanimity and 
honour. A brave man ought to die, rather than make a promise which 
he can neither keep without folly, nor violate without ignominy. For 
some degree of ignominy always attends a situation of this kind. 
Treachery and falsehood are vices so dangerous, so dreadful, and, at 
the same time, such as may so easily, and, upon many occasions, so 
safely be indulged, that we are more jealous of them than of almost 
any other. Our imagination therefore attaches the idea of shame to 
all violations of faith, in every circumstance and in every situation. 
They resemble, in this respect, the violations of chastity in the fair sex, 
a virtue of which, for the like reasons, we are excessively jealous ; and 
our sentiments are not more delicate with regard to the one, than with 
regard to the other. Breach of chastity dishonours irretrievably. No 
circumstances, no solicitation can excuse it ; no sorrow, no repentance 
atone for it. We are so nice in this respect that even a rape dis- 
honours, and the innocence of the mind cannot, in our imagination, 
wash out the pollution of the body. It is the same case with the 
violation of faith, when it has been solemnly pledged, even to the most 


worthless of mankind. Fidelity is so necessary a virtue, that we ap- 
prehend it in general to be due even to those to whom nothing else is 
due, and whom we think it lawful to kill and destroy. It is to no pur- 
pose that the person who has been guilty of the breach of it, urges that 
he promised in order to save his life, and that he broke his promise 
because it was inconsistent with some other respectable duty to keep 
it These circumstances may alleviate, but cannot entirely wipe out 
his dishonour. He appears to have been guilty of an action with 
which, in the imaginations of men, some degree of shame is inseparably 
connected. He has broken a promise which he had solemnly averred 
he would maintain ; and his character, if not irretrievably stained and 
polluted, has at least a ridicule afiixed to it, which it will be very diffi- 
cult entirely to efface ; and no man, I imagine, who had gone through 
an adventure of this kind would be fond of telling the story. 
' This instance may serve to show wherein consists the difference be- 
tween casuistry and jurisprudence, even when both of them consider 
the obhgations of the general rules of justice. 

But though this difference be real and essential, though those two 
sciences propose quite different ends, the sameness of the subject has 
made such a similarity between them, that the greater part of authors 
whose professed design was to treat of jurisprudence, have determined 
the different questions they examine, sometimes according to the prin- 
ciples of that science, and sometimes according to those of casuistry, 
without distinguishing, and, perhaps, without being themselves aware, 
when they did the one, and when the other. 

The doctrine of the casuists, however, is by no means confined to 
the consideration of what a conscientious regard to the general rules of 
justice would demand of us. It embraces many other parts of Christian 
and moral duty. What seems principally to have given occasion to the 
cultivation of this species of science was the custom of auricular con- 
fession, introduced by the Roman Catholic superstition, in times of 
barbarism and ignorance. By that institution, the most secret actions, 
and even the thoughts of every person, which could be suspected of 
receding in the smallest degree from the rules of Christian purity, were 
to be revealed to the confessor. The confessor informed his penitents 
whether, and in what respect, they had violated their duty, and what 
penance it behoved them to undergo, before he could absolve them in 
the name of the offended Deity, 

The consciousness, or even the suspicion of having done wrong, is a 
load upon every mind, and is accompanied with anxiety and terror in 
all those who are not hardened by long habits of iniquity. Men, in this, 
as in all other distresses, are naturally eager to disburthen themselves 
of the oppression which they feel upon their thoughts, by unbosoming 
the agony of their mind to some person whose secrecy and discretion 
they can confide in. The shame, which they suffer from this acknow- 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 297 

ledgment, is fully compensated by that alleviation of their uneasiness 
which the sympathy of their confidence seldom fails to occasion. It re- 
lieves them to find that they are not altogether unworthy of regard, and 
that however their past conduct may be censured, their present dispo- 
sition is at least approved of, and is perhaps sufficient to compensate 
the other, at least to maintain them in some degree of esteem with their 
friend. A numerous and artful clergy had, in those times of superstition, 
insinuated themselves into the confidence of almost every private 
family. They possessed all the little learning which the times could 
afford, and their manners, though in many respects rude and disorderly, 
were polished and regular compared with those of the age they lived in. 
They were regarded, therefore, not only as the great directors of all 
religious, but of all moral duties. Their familiarity gave reputation to 
whoever was so happy as to possess it, and every mark of their dis- 
approbation stamped the deepest ignominy upon all who had the mis- 
fortune to fall under it Being considered as the great judges of right 
and wrong, they were naturally consulted about all scruples that oc- 
curred, and it was reputable for any person to have it known that he 
madeUiose holy men the confidants of all such secrets, and took no im- 
portant or delicate step in his conduct without their advice and appro- 
bation. It was not difficult for the clergy, therefore, to get it established 
as a general rule, that they should be entrusted with what it had already 
become fashionable to entrust them, and with what they generally 
would have been entrusted, though no such rule had been established. 
To qualify themselves for confessors became thus a necessary part of 
the study of churchmen and divines, and they were thencfe led to collect 
what are called cases of conscience, nice and delicate situations in 
which it is hard to determine whereabouts the propriety of conduct 
may lie. Such works, they imagined, might be of use both to the 
directors of consciences and to those who were to be directed ; and 
hence the origin of books of casuistry. 

The moral duties which fell under the consideration of the casuists 
were chiefly those which can, in some measure at least, be circum- 
scribed within general rules, and of which the violation is naturally 
attended with some degree of remorse and some dread of suffering 
punishment. The design of that institution which gave occasion to 
their works, was to appease those terrors of conscience which attend 
upon the infringement of such duties. But it is not every virtue of 
which the defect is accompanied with any very severe compunctions of 
this kind, and no man applies to his confessor for absolution, because 
he did not perform the most generous, the most friendly, or the most 
magnanimous action which, in his circumstances, it was possible to 
perform. In failures of this kind, the rule that is violated is commonly 
not very determinate, and is generally of such a nature too, that though 
the observance of it might entitle to honour and reward, the violation 



seems to expose to no positive blame, cenaire, oar punishment. The 
exercise of such yirtues the casuists seem to have regarded as a sort of 
works of supererogation, which could not be very strictly exacted, and 
which it was therefore unnecessary for them to treat of. 

The breaches of moral duty, therefore, which came before the tribu- 
nal of the confessor, and upon that account fell under the cognisance 
of the casuists, were chiefly of three different kinds. 

First and principally, breaches of the rules of justice. The rules here 
are all express and positive, and the vidation of them is naturally 
attended with the consciousness pf deserving, aad the dread of suffer- 
ing punishment both from God and man. 

Secondly, breaches of the rules of chastity. Thesfe in all grosser in- 
stances are real breaches of the rules of justice, and no person can be 
guilty of them without doing the most unpardonable injury to some 
other. In smaller instances, when they amount only to a violation of 
those exact decorums which ought to be observed in the conversation 
of the two sexes, they cannot indeed justly be considered as violations 
of the rules of justice. They are generally, however, violations of a 
pretty plain rule, and, at least in one of the sexes, tend to bring igno- 
miny upon the person who hais been guilty of them, and consequently 
to be attended in the scrupulous with some de^ee of shame and con- 
trition of mind. 

Thirdly, breaches of the rules of veracity. The violation of truth, it 
is to be observed, is not always a breach of justice, though it is so upon 
many occasions, and consequently cannot always es^ose to any ex- 
ternal punishment. The vice of common lying, though a most misera- 
ble meanness, may frequently do hurt to nobody, and in this case no 
^laim of vengeance or satisfaction can be due dther to the persons im- 
posed upon, or to others. But t];^ough the violation of truth is not 
always a breach of justice, it is always a breach of a very plain rule, 
and what does naturally tend to cover mth shame the person who has 
^n guilty of it 

There seems to be in young children an instinctive disposition to be- 
lieve whatever they are tdd. Nature seems to have judged it necessary 
for their preservation that they should, for some time at least, put im- 
plicit confidence in those to whom the care of their childhood, and of 
the e;g«'liest and most necessary parts of their education, is intrusted. 
Their credulity, accordingly, is excessive, and it requires long and much 
experience of the falsehood of mankind to reduce them to a reasonable 
degree of diffidence aiad distrust. In grown-up people the degrees of 
credulity are, no doubt, very different. The wisest and most expe- 
rtenced are generally the least credulous. But the man scarce lives 
who is not more credulous than he oughi: to be, aoid who does not, upon 
many occasions, give credit to tales, which not only turn out to be per- 
fectly false, but which a very moderate degree of reflection and atten- 


tioh might have taugiit him cotild not well be tfue. The natural dispo- 
sition is always to believe. It is acquired wisdom and experience only 
that teach incredulity, and they very seldom teach it enough. The 
wisest and most cautious of us all frequently gives credit to stories 
which he himself is afterwards both ashamed and astonished that he 
could possibly think of believing. 

The man whom we believe is necessarily, in the things concerning 
which we believe him, our leader and director, and we look up to him 
with a certain degree of esteem and respect. But as from admiring 
other people we come to wish to be admired ourselves ; so from being 
led and directed by other people we learn to wish to become ourselves 
leaders and directors. And as we cannot always be satisfied merely 
with being admired, unless we can at the same time persuade ourselves 
that we are in some degree really worthy of admiration ; so we cannot 
always be satisfied merely with being believed, unless we are at the 
same time conscious that we are really worthy of belief. As the desire 
of praise and that of praise-worthiness, though very much akin, are 
yet distinct and separate desires ; so the desire of being believed and 
that of being worthy of belief, though very much akin too, are equally- 
distinct and separate desires. 

The desire of being believed, the desire of persuading, of leading 
and directing other people, seems to be one of the strongest of all our 
natural desires. It is, perhaps, the instinct upon which is founded the 
faculty of speech, the characteristical faculty of human nature. No 
other animal possesses this faculty, and we cannot discover in any other 
animal any desire to lead and direct the judgment and conduct of its 
fellows. Great ambition, the desire of real superiority, of leading and 
directing, seems to be altogether peculiar to man, and speech is the 
great instrument of ambition, of real superiority, of leading and direct- 
ing the judgments and conduct of other people. 

It is always mortifying not to be believed, and it is doubly so when 
we suspect that it is because we are supposed to be unworthy of belief 
and capable of seriously and wilfully deceiving. To tell a man that he 
lies, is of all affronts the most mortal But whoever seriously and wil- 
fully deceives is necessarily conscious to himself that he merits this 
affront, that he does not deserve to be believed, and that he forfeits all 
title to that sort of credit from which alone he can derive any sor1*of 
ease, comfort, or satisfaction in the society of his equals. The man 
who had the misfortune to imagine that nobody believed a single word 
he said, would feel himself the outcast of human srociety, would dread 
the very thought of going into it, or of presenting himself before it^ 
and could scarce fail, I think, to die of despair. It is probable, how- 
ever, that no man ever had just reason to entertain this humiliating 
opinion of himself. The most notorious liar, I am disposed to believe, 
tells the fair truth at least twenty times for once that he seriously and 

20 * 


deliberately lies ; and, as in the most cautious the disposition to believe 
is apt to prevail over that to doubt and distrust ; so in those who are 
the most regardless of truth, the natural disposition to tell it prevails 
upon most occasions over that to deceive, or in any respect to alter or 
to disguise it. 

We are mortified when we happen to deceive other people, though 
unintentionally, and from having been ourselves deceived. Though 
this involuntary falsehood may frequently be no mark of any want of 
veracity, of any want of the most perfect love of truth, it is always in 
some degree a mark of want of judgment, of want of memory, of in>- 
proper credulity, of some degree of precipitancy and rashness. It 
always diminishes our authority to persuade, and always brings some 
degree of suspicion upon our fitness to lead and direct. The man who 
sometimes misleads from mistake, however, is widely different from 
him who is capable of wilfully deceiving. The former may be trusted 
upon many occasions 5 the latter very seldom upon any. 

Frankness and openness conciliate confidence. We trust the man, 
who seems willing to trust us. We see clearly, we think, the road by 
which he means to conduct us, and we abandon ourselves with pleasure 
to his guidance and direction. Reserve and concealment, on the con- 
trary, call forth diffidence. We are afraid to follow the man who is 
going we do not know where. The great pleasure of conversation and 
society, besides, arises from a certain correspondence of sentiments 
and opinions, from a certain harmony of minds, which like so many 
musical instruments coincide and keep time with one another. But 
this most delightful harmony cannot be obtained unless there is a free 
communication of sentiments and opinions. We all desire, upon this 
account, to feel how each other is affected, to penetrate into each 
other's bosoms, and to observe the sentiments and affections which 
really subsist there. The man who indulges us in this natural passion^ 
who invites us into his heart, who, as it were, sets open the gates of his 
breast to us, seems to exercise a spscies of hospitality more delightful 
than any other. No man, who is in ordinary good temper, can fail of 
pleasing, if he has the courage to utter his re?' sentiments as he feels 
them, and because he feels them. It is this unreserved sincerity 
which renders even the prattle of a child agreeable. How weak and 
in^erfect soever the views of the open-hearted, we take pleasure to 
enter into them, and endeavour, as much as we can, to bring down our 
own understanding to the level of their capacities, and to regard every 
subject in the particular light in which they appear to have considered 
it This passion to discover the real sentiments of others is naturally 
so strong, that it often degenerates into a troublesome and impertinent 
curiosity to pry into those secrets of our neighbours which they have 
very justifiable reasons for concealing ; and, upon many occasions, it 
requires prudence and a strong sense of propriety to govern this, as 


well as all the other passions of human nature, and to reduce it to that 
pitch which any impartial spectator can approve of. To disappoint 
this curiosity, however, when it is kept within proper bounds, and aims 
St nothing which there can be any just reason for c©ncealing, is equally 
disagreeable in its turn. The man who eludes our most innocent 
questions, who gives no satisfaction to our most inoffensive inquiries, 
who plainly wraps himself up in impenetrable obscurity, seems, as it 
were, to build a wall about his breast. We run forward to get within 
it, with all the eagerness of harmless curiosity ; and feel ourselves all 
at once pushed back with rude and offensive violence. 

The man of reserve and concealment, though seldom a very amiable 
character, is not disrespected or despised. He seems to feel coldly 
towards us, and we feel as coldly towards him. He is not much praised 
or beloved, but he is as little hated or blamed. He very seldom, how- 
ever, has occasion to repent of his caution, and is generally disposed 
rather to value himself upon the prudence of his reserve. Though his 
conduct, therefore, may have been very faulty, and sometimes even 
hurtful, he can very seldom be disposed to lay his case before the 
casuists, or to fancy that he has any occasion for their acquittal or 
for their approbation. 

It is not always so with the man, who, from false information, from 
inadvertency, from precipitancy and rashness, has involuntarily deceived* 
Though it should be in a matter of little consequence, in telUnig a piece 
of common news, for example, if he is a real lover of truth, he is 
ashamed of his own carelessness, and never fails to embrace the first 
opportunity of making the fullest acknowledgments. If it is in a matter 
of some consequence, his contrition is still greater ; and if any unlucky 
or fatal consequence has followed from his misinformation, he can 
scarce ever forgive himself. Though not guilty, he feels himself to be 
in the highest degree, what the ancients called, piacular, and is anxious 
and eager to make every sort of atonement in his power. Such a person 
might frequently be disposed to lay his case before the casuists, who 
have in general been very favourable to him, and though they have 
sometimes justly condemned him for rashness, they have universally 
acquitted him of the ignominy of falsehood. 

But the man who had the most frequent occasion to consult them, 
was the man of equivocation and mental reservation, the man who 
seriously and deliberately meant to deceive, but who, at the same time, 
wished to flatter himself that he had really told the truth. With him 
they have dealt variously. When they approved very much of the 
motives of his deceit, they have sometimes acquitted him, though, to 
do the casuists justice, they have in general and much more fre- 
quently condemned him. 

The chief subjects of the works of the casuists, therefore, wel-e the 
conscientious regard that is due to the rules of justice; how far we 


ought to respect the life and property of our neighbour ; the duty of 
restitution ; ihe laws of chastity and modesty, and wherein consisted 
what, in the language of the casuists, were called the sins of concupi- 
scence ; the rules of veracity, and the obligation of o^ths, promises, 
and contracts of all kinds. 

It may be said in general of the works of the casuists that they 
attempted, to no purpose, to direct by precise rules what it belongs to 
feeling and sentiment only to judge of. How is it possible to ascertain 
by rules the exact point at which, in every case, a delicate sense of 
justice begins to run into a frivolous and weak scrupulosity of con- 
science? When is it that secrecy and reserve begin to grow into dis- 
simulation ? How far may an agreeable irony be carried, and at what 
precise point it begins to degenerate into a. detestable lie? What is 
the highest pitch of freedom and ease of behaviour which can be 
regarded as graceful, and becoming^ and when is it that it first begins 
to run into a negligent and thoughtless licentiousness? With regard 
to all such matters, what would hold good in any one case would scarce 
do so exactly in any other, and what constitutes the propriety and 
happiness of behaviour varies in every case with the smallest variety of 
situation. Books of casuistry, therefore, are generally as useless as 
they are commonly tiresome. They could be of little use to one who 
should consult them upon occasion, even supposing their decisions to 
be just; because, notwithstanding the multitude of cases collected in 
them, yet upon account of the still greater variety of possible circum- 
stances, it is a chance, if among all those cases there be found one 
exactly parallel to that under consideration. One, who is really anxious 
to do his duty, must be very weak, if he can imagine that he has much 
occasion for them ; and with regard to one who is negligent of it, the 
very style of those writings is not such as is likely to awaken him to. 
more attention. None of them tend to animate us to what is generous, 
and noble. None of them do tend to soften us to what is gentle and 
humane. Many of them, on the contrary, tend rather to teach us to 
chicane with our own consciences, and by their vain subtjlties serve to 
authorise innumerable evasive refinements with regard to the most 
essential articles of our duty. That frivolous accuracy which they 
attempted to introduce into subjects which do not admit of it, almost 
necessarily betrayed them into those dangerous errors, and at the same 
time rendered their works dry and disagreeable, abounding in abstruse 
and metaphysical distinctions, but incapable of exciting in the heart 
any of those emotions which it is the principal us^.of bopks of morality 
to excite in the readers. 

The two useful parts of moral philosophy, therefore, are Ethics and 
Jurisprudence: casuistry ought to be rejected^ altpgether; and the 
ancient moralists appear to have judged much better, who, in treating 
of the same subjects, did not affect any such nice exactness» but con* 

smith's theory of moral sentiments. 303 

tented themselves with describing, in a general manner, what is the 
sentiment upon which justice, modesty, and veracity are founded, and 
what is the ordinary way of acting to which those great virtues would 
commonly prompt us. 

Something indeed, not unlike the doctrine of the casuists, seems to 
have been attempted by several philosophers. There is something of 
this kind in the third book of Cicero's Offices, where he endeavours 
like a casuist, to give rules for our conduct in many nice cases, in which 
it is difficult to determine whereabouts the point of propriety may lie. 
It appears too, from many passages in the same book, that several 
other philosophers had attempted something of the same kind before 
him. Neither he nor they, however, appear to have aimed at giving a 
complete system of this sort, but only meant to show how, situations 
may occur, in which it is doubtful, whether the highest propriety of 
conduct consists in observing or in receding from what, in ordinary 
cases, are the rules of our duty. 

Every system of positive law may be regarded as a more or less 
imperfect attempt towards a system of natural jurisprudence, or towards 
an enumeration of the particular rules of justice. As the violation of 
justice is what men will never submit to from one another, the pubhc 
magistrate is under a necessity of employing the power of the common- 
wealth to enforce the practice of this virtue. Without this precaution, 
civil society would become a scene of bloodshed and disorder, every 
man revenging himself at his own hand whenever he fancied he was 
injured. To prevent the confusion which would attend upon every 
man's doing justice to himself, the magistrate, in all governments that 
have acquired any considerable authority, undertakes to do justice to 
all, and promises to hear and to redress every complaint of injury. In 
all well-governed states, too, not only judges are appointed for deter- 
mining the controversies of individuals, but rules are prescribed for 
regulating the decisions of those judges ; and these rules are, in gene^ 
ral, intended to coincide with those of natural justice. It does not, 
indeed, always happen that they do so in every instance. Sometimes 
what is called the constitution of the state, that is, the interest of the 
government ; sometimes the interest of particular orders of men who 
tyrannize the government, warp the positive laws of the country from 
what natural justice would prescribe. In some countries, the rudeness 
and barbarism of the people hinder the natural sentiments of justice 
from arriving at that accuracy and precision which, in more civilized 
nations, they naturally attain to. Their laws are, like their manners, 
gross and rude and undistinguishing. In other countries the unfor- 
tunate constitution of their courts of judicature hinders any regular 
system of jurisprudence from ever establishing itself among them, 
though the improved manners of the people may be such as would 
admit of the most accurate. In no country do the decisions of positive 


law coincide exactly, in every case, with the rules which the natural 
sense of justice would dictate. Systems of positive law, therefore, 
though they deserve the greatest authority, as the records of the senti- 
ments of mankind in different ages and nations, yet can never be 
regarded as accurate systems of the rules of natural justice. 

It might have been expected that the reasonings of lawyers, upon 
the different imperfections and improvements of the laws of different 
countries, should have given occasion, to an inquiry into what were the 
natural rules of justice independent of all positive institution. It might 
have been expected that these reasonings should have led them to aim 
at establishing a system of what might properly be called natural juris- 
prudence, or a theory of the general principles which ought to run 
through and be the foundation of the laws of all nations. But though 
the reasonings of lawyers did produce something of this kind, and 
though no man has treated systematically of the laws of any particular 
country, without intermijcing in his work many observations of this 
sort ; it was very late in the world before any such general system was 
thought of, or before the philosophy of law was treated of by itself, and 
without regard to the particular institutions of any one nation. In 
none of the ancient moralists, do we find any attempt towards a par- 
ticular enumeration of the rules of justice. Cicero in his Offices, and 
Aristotle in his Ethics, treat of justice in the same general manner in 
which they treat of all the other virtues. In the laws of Cicero and 
Plato, where we might naturally have expected some attempts towards 
an enumeration of those rules of natural equity, which ought to be 
enforced by the positive laws of every country, there is, however, 
nothing of this kind. Their laws are laws of police, not of justice. 
Grotius seems to have been the first who attempted to give the world 
any thing like a system of those principles which ought to run through, 
and be the foundation of the laws of all nations ; and his treatise of the 
laws of war and peace, with all its imperfections, is perhaps at this day 
the most complete work that has yet been given upon this subject I 
shall in another discourse endeavour to give an account of the general 
principles of law and government, and of the different revolutions they 
have undergone in the different ages and periods of society, not only in 
what concerns justice, but in what concerns police, revenue, and arms, 
and whatever else is the object of law. I shall not, therefore, at 
present, enter into any further detail concerning the history of juris- 




The assignation of particular names to denote particular objects, that 
is, the institution of nouns substantive, would, p robab ly be one of the j 
first steps towards the formation of language. Two savages, who had 
never been taught to speak, but had been bred up remote from the 
societies of men, would naturally begin to form that language by which 
they would endeavour to make their mutual wants intelligible to each 
other, by uttering certain sounds, whenever they meant to denote cer- 
tain objects. Those objects only which were most familiar to them, 
and which they had most frequent occasion to mention would have 
particular names assigned to them. The particular cave whose cover- 
ing sheltered them from the weather, the particular tree whose fruit 
relieved their hunger, the particular fountain whose water allayed their 
thirst, would first be denominated by the words cave^ tree^ fountain^ or 
by whatever other appellations they might think proper, in that primi- 
tive jargon, to mark them. Afterwards, when the more enlarged ex- 
perience of these savages had led them to observe, and their necessary 
occasions obliged them to make mention of other caves, and other trees, 
and other fountains, they would naturally bestow, upon each of those 
new objects, the same name, by which they had been accustomed to 
express the similar objects they were first acquainted with. The new 
objects had none of them any name of its own, but each of them exactly 
resembled another object, which had such an appellation. It was im- 
possible that those savages could behold the new objects, without re- | 
collecting the old ones ; and the name of the old ones, to which the ! 
new bore so close a resemblance. When they had occasion, therefore, 
to mention or to point out to each other, any of the new objects, they 
would naturally utter the name of the correspondent old one, of which 
the idea could not fail, at that instant, to present itself to their memory 
in the strongest and liveliest manner. And thus, those words, which ^ 
were originally the proper names of individuals, would each of them ' 
insensibly become the common name of a multitude. A child that'is^ 
just learning to speak, calls every person who comes to the house its 
papa or its mamma ; and thus bestows upon the whole species those 
names which it had been taught to apply ^o two individuals. I have 


known a clown, who did not know the proper name of the river which 
ran by his own door. It was the river ^ he said, and he never heard any 
other name for it His experience, it seems, had not led him to observe 
any other river. The general word river^ therefore, was, it is evident, 
in his acceptance of it, a proper name, signifying an individual object 
If this person had been carried to another river, would he not readily 
have called it a river .-* Could we suppose any person living on the 
banks of the Thames so ignorant as not to know the general word m^ 
but to be acquainted only with the particular word Thames^ if he was 
brought to any other river, would he not readily call it a Thames f 
This, in reality, is no more than what they, who are well acquainted 
with the general word, are very apt to do. An Englishman, describing 
any great river which he may have seen in some foreign country, na- 
turally says, that it is another Thames. The Spaniards, when they first 
arrived upon the coast of Mexico, and observed the wealth, popidous- 
ness, and habitations of that fine country, so much superior to the 
savage nations which they had been visiting for some time before, cried 
out, that it was another Spain. Hence it was called New Spain ; and 
this name has stuck to that unfortunate country ever since. We say, 
in the same manner, of a hero, that he is an Alexander ; of an orator, 
that he is a Cicero ; of a philosopher, that he is a Newton. This way 
of speaking, which the grammarians call an Antonomasia, and which is 
still extremely common, though now not at all necessary, demonstrates 
how mankind are disposed to give to one object the name of any other, 
which nearly resembles it, and thus to denominate a multitude, by 
what originally was intended to express an individual. 

It is this application of the name of an individual to a great multitude 
of objects, whose resemblance naturally recalls the idea of that indivi- 
dual, and of the name which expresses it, that seems originally to have 
given occasion to the formation of those classes and assortments, which, 
in the schools, are called genera and species, and of which Jthfi_ingeni- 
ous and eloquent M. Rousseau of Geneva finds himself so much at a 
loss to account for the origin. What constitutes a species is merely a 
number of objects, bearing a certain degree of resemblance to one 
another, and on that account denominated by a single appellation, 
which may be applied to express any one of them. 

When the greater part of objects had thiis been arranged under their 
proper classes and assortments, distinguished by such general names, 
it was impossible that the greater part of that almost infinite number of 
individuals, comprehended under each particular assortment or species, 
could have any peculiar or proper names of their own, distinct from 
the general name of the species. When there was occasion, therefore, 
to mention any particular object, it often became necessary to dis- 
tinguish it from the other objects comprehended under the same general 
name, either, first, by its peculiar qualities ; or, secondly* by the pecu- 


liar relationVhich it stood in to some other things. Hence the neces- 
sary origin of two other sets of words, of which the one should express 
quality ; the other, relation. 

Nouns adjective are the words which express quality considered as 
qualifying, or, as the schoolmen say, in concrete with, some particular 
subject. Thus the word green expresses a certain quality considered 
as qualifying, or as in concrete with, the particular subjecf to which it 
may be applied. f\Vords of this kind, it is evident, may serve to dis- 
tinguish particulaTHobjects from others comprehended under the same 
general appellation. The words green tree^ for example, might serve 
to distinguish a p^ticular tree from others that were withered or that 
were blasted. \ 

Prepositions are the words which express relation considered, in the 
same manner, in concrete with the co-relative object. Thus the pre- 
positions of, to, for, with, by, above, below, &c., denote some relation 
subsisting between the objects expressed by the words between which 
the prepositions are placed ; and they denote that this relation is con- 
sidered in concrete with the co-relative object. Words of this kind 
serve to distinguish particular objects from others of the same species, 
when those particular objects cannot be so properly marked out by any 
peculiar qualities of their own. When we say, the green tree of the 
meadow, for example, we distinguish a particular tree, not only by the 
quality which belongs to it, but by the relation which it stands in to 
another object* 

As neither quality nor relation can exist in abstract, it is natural to 
suppose that tie words which^denote them considered in concrete, the 
way in which we always see them subsist, would be of much earlier in- 
vention than those which express them considered in abstract, the way 
in which we never see them subsist. The words green and blue would, 
in all probability, be sooner invented than the words greenness and blue- 
ness ; the words above and below, than the words superiority and in- 
feriority. To invent words of the latter kind requires a much greater 
effort of abstraction than to invent those of the former, It is probable 
therefore, that such abstract terms would be of much later institution. 
Accordingly, their etymologies generally show that they are so, theyj 
being generally derived from others that are concrete. 

But though the invention of nouns adjective be much more natural 
than that of the abstract nouns substantive derived from them, it would 
still, however, require a considerable degree of abstraction and gene- 
ralization. Those, for example, who first invented the words green^ 
blu€j red, and the other names of colours, must have observed and 
compared together a great number of objects, must have remarked 
their resemblances and dissimilitudes in respect of the quality of 
colour, and must have arranged them, in their own minds, into different 
classes and assortments, according to those resemblances and dissimili- 


tudes. An adjective is by nature a general, and in some measure an 
abstract word, and necessarily pre-supposes the idea of a certain 
species or assortment of things, to all of which it is equally applicable. 
The word green could not, as we were supposing might be the case of 
the word cave^ have been originally the name of an individual, and 
afterwards have become, by what granmiarians call an Antonomasia, 
the name of a species. The word green denoting, not the name of a 
substance, but the peculiar quality of a substance, must from the very 
first have been a general word, and considered as equally applicable to 
any other substance possessed of the same quality. The man who 
first distinguished a particular object by the epithet oi green, must 
have observed other objects that were not green, from which he meant 
to separate it by this appellation. The institution of this name, there- 
fore, supposes comparison. It likewise supposes some degree of ab- 
straction. The person who first invented this appellation must have 
distinguished the quality from the object to which it belonged, and 
must have conceived the object as capable of subsisting without the 
quality. The invention, therefore, even of the simplest nouns adjective 
must have required more metaphysics than we are apt to be aware of. 
The different mental operations, of arrangement or classing, of com-* 
parison, and of abstraction, must all have been employed, before even 
the names of the different colours, the least metaphysical of all nouns 
adjective, could be instituted. From all which I infer, that when 
languages were beginning to be formed, nouns adjective would by no 
means be the words of the earliest invention. 

There is nothing expedient for denoting the different qualities of 
different substance, which as it requires no abstraction, nor any con- 
ceived separation of the quality from the subject, seems more natural 
than the invention of nouns adjective, and which, upon this account, 
could hardly fail, in the first formation of language, to be thought of 
before them. This expedient is to make some variation upon the noun 
substantive itself, according to the different qualities which it is en- 
do wed- with. Thus in many languages, the qualities both of sex and 
of the want of sex, are expressed by different terminations in the nouns 
substantive, which denote objects so qualified. In Latin, for example, 
lupus, lupaj eguus, eguaj juvencus,juveftcaj yulius, yuliaj Lucre- 
1 iius, Lucretia, &c., denote the qualities of male and female in the 
■ animals and persons to whom such appellations belong, without need- 
ing the addition of any adjective for this purpose. On the other hand, 
the viordis forum, pratum, plaustrum, denote by their peculiar termina- 
tion the total absence of sex in the different substances which they 
stand for. Both sex, and the want of all sex, being naturally considered 
as qualities modifying and inseparable from the particular substances 
to which they belong, it was natural to express them rather by a modi- 
fication in the noun substantive, than by any general and abstract word 


expressive of this particular species of quality. The expression bears, 
it is evident, in this way, a much more exact analogy to the idea or 
object which it denotes than in the other. The quality appears, in 
nature, as a modification of the substance, and as it is thus expressed in 
language, by a modification of the noun substantive, which denotes that 
substance, the quality and the subject are, in this case, blended to- 
gether, if I may say so, in the expression, \n the same manner as they 
appear to be in the object and in the idea. Hence the origin of the 
masculine, feminine, and neutral genders, in all the ancient languages. 
By means of these, the most important of all distinctions, that of sub- 
stances into animated and inanimated, and that of animals into male 
and female, seem to have been sufficiently marked without the assist- 
ance of adjectives, or of any general names denoting this most exten- 
sive species of qualifications. 

There are no more than these three genders in any of the languages 
with which I am acquainted ; that is to say, the formation of nouns 
substantive can, by itself, and without the accompaniment of adjectives, 
express no other qualities but those three above mentioned, the qualities 
of male, of female, of neither male nor female. I should not, however, 
be surprised, if, in other languages with which I am unacquainted, the 
different formations of nouns substantive should be capable of express- 
ing many other different qualities. The different diminutives of the 
Italian, and of some other languages, do, in reality, sometimes express 
a great variety of different modifications in the substances denoted by 
those nouns which undergo such variations. 

It was impossible, however, that nouns substantive could, without 
losing altogether their original form, undergo so great a number of 
variations, as would be sufficient to express that almost infinite variety 
of qualities, by which it might, upon different occasions, be necessary 
to specify and distinguish them. Though the different formation of 
nouns substantive, therefore, might, for some time, forestall the neces- 
sity of inventing nouns adjective, it was impossible that this necessity 
could be forestalled altogether. When nouns adjective came to be in- 
vented, it was natural that they should be formed with some similarity to 
the substantives to which they were to serve as epithets or qualifica-t 
tions. Men would naturally give them the same terminations with the 
substantives to which they were first applied, and from that love of 
similarity of sound, from that delight in the returns of the same syl- 
lables, which is the foundation of analogy in all languages, they would 
be apt to vary the termination of the same adjective, according as they 
had occasion to apply it to a masculine, to a feminine, or to a neutrad 
substantive. They would say, magnus lupus, magna lupa, magnum 
pratum, when they meant to express a great he wolf, a great she wolf^ 
or a great meadow. 

This variation, in the termination of the noun adjective, according to 


the gender of the substantive, which takes place in all the ancient 
languages, seems to have been introduced chiefly for the sake of a 
certain similarity of sound, of a certain species of rhyme, which is 
naturally so very agreeable to the human ear. Gender, it is to observed, 
cannot properly belong to a noun adjective, the signification of which 
is always precisely the same, to whatever species of substantives it is 
applied. When we say, a great man^ a great woman^ the word great 
has precisely the same meaning in both cases, and the difference*of the 
sex in the subjects to which it may be applied, makes no sort of differ- 
ence in its signification. Magnus, magna, magnum, in the same 
manner, are words which express precisely the same quality, and the 
change of the termination is accompanied with no sort of variation in 
the meaning. Sex and gender are qualities which belong to substances, 
but cannot belong to the qualities of substances. In general, no quality, 
when considered in concrete, or as qualifying some particular subject, 
can itself be conceived as the subject of any other quality ; though 
when considered in abstract it may. No adjective therefore can qualify 
any other adjective. A great good man, means a man who is both 
great and good. Both the adjectives qualify the substantive ; they do 
not qualify one another. On the other hand, when we say, the great 
goodness of the man, the word goodness denoting a quality considered 
in abstract, which may itself be the subject of other qualities, is upon 
that accouiit capable of being quahfied by the word great. 

If the originsd invention of nouns adjective would be attended with 
so much difficulty, that of prepositions would be accompanied with yet 
more. Every preposition, as I have already observed, denotes some 
relation considered in concrete with the co-relative object. The pre- 
position above, for example, denotes the relation of superiority, not in 
abstract, as it is expressed by the word superiority, but in concrete 
with some co-relative object. In this phrase, "for example, the tree 
above the cave, the word above expresses a certain relation between the 
tree and the cave, and it expresses this relation in concrete with the co- 
relative object, the cave, A preposition always requires, in order to 
complete the sense, some other word to come after it ; as may be ob- 
served in this particular instance. Now, I say, the original invention 
of such words would require a yet greater effort of abstraction and 
generalization, than that of nouns adjective. First of all, the relation 
is, in itself, a more metaphysical objefct than a quality. Nobody can 
be at a loss to explain what is meant by a quality ; but few people will 
find themselves able to express, very distinctly, what is understood by 
a relation. Qualities are almost always the Objects of our external 
senses ; relations never are. No wonder therefore, that the one set of 
objects should be so much more comprehensible than the other. 
Secondly, though prepositions always express the relation which they 
stand for, in concrete with the co-relative object, they could not have 


originally been formed without a considerable effort of abstraction. A 
preposition denotes a relation, and nothing but a relation. But before 
men could institute a word, which signified a relation, and nothing but 
a relation, they must have been able, in some measure, to consider this 
relation abstractedly from the related objects ; since the idea of those 
objects does not, in any respect, enter into the signification of the pre- 
position. The invention of such a word, therefore, must have required 
a considerable degree of abstraction. Thirdly, a preposition is from 
its nature a general word, which, from its very first institution, must 
bave been considered as equally applicable to denote any other similar 
relation. The man who first invented the word above, must not only 
have distinguished, in some measure, the relation of superiority from 
the objects which were so related, but he must also have distinguished 
this relation from other relations, such as, from the relation of inferi- 
ority denoted by the word below, from the relation oi juxta-positiotiy 
expressed by the word beside, and the like. He must have conceived 
this word, therefore, as expressive of a particular sort or species of 
relation distinct from every other, which could not be done without a 
considerable effort of comparison and generalization. 

Whatever were the difficulties, therefore, which embarrassed the first 
invention of nouns adjective, the same, and many more, must have 
embarrassed that of prepositions. If mankind, therefore, in the first 
formation of languages, seem to have, for some time, gvaded the neces- 
sity of nouns adjective, by varying the termination of the names of 
substances, according as these varied in some of their most important 
qualities, they would much more find themselves under the necessity 
of evading, by some similar contrivance, the yet more difficult invention 
of prepositions. The different cases in the ancient languages is a con- 
trivance of precisely th% same kind. The genitive and dative cases, in 
Greek and Latin, evidently supply the place of the prepositions ; and 
by a variation in the noun substantive, which stands for the co-relative 
term, express the relation which subsists between what is denoted by 
tbat noun substantive, and what is expressed by some other word in 
the sentence. I^ these expressions, for example, fructus arboris, the 
fruit of the tree; sacer Herculi, sacred to Hercules; the variations made 
in the co-relative words, arbor and Hercules, express the same relations 
which are expressed in English by the prepositions ^and to. 

To express a relation in this manner, did not require any effort of 
abstraction. It was not here expressed by a peculiar word denoting 
relation and nothing but relation, but by a variation upon the co- 
relative term. It was expressed here, as it appears in nature, not as 
something separated and detached, but as thoroughly mixed and 
tlended w^ith the co-relative object. 

To express relation in thfs manner, did not require any effort of 
generalization. The words arboris and Herculi^ while they involve in 


their signification the same relation expressed by the English preposi- 
tions of and tOy are not, like those prepositions, general words, which 
can be applied to express the same relation between whatever other 
objects it might be observed to subsist. 

To express relation in this manner did not require any effort of 
comparison. The words arboris and Herculi are not general words 
intended to denote a particular species of relations which the inventors 
of those expressions meant, in consequence of some sort of comparison, 
to separate and distinguish from every other sort of relation. The 
example, indeed, of this contrivance would soon probably be followed, 
and whoever had occasion to express a similar relation between any 
other objects would be very apt to do it by making a similar variation 
on the name of the co-relative object This, I say, would probably, or 
rather certainly happen ; but it would happen without any intention or 
foresight in those who first set the example, and who never meant to 
establish any general rule. The general rule would establish itself 
insensibly, and by slow degrees, in consequence of that love of analogy 
and similarity of sound, which is the foundation of by far the greater 
part of the rules of grammar. 

To express relation, therefore, by a variation in the name of the co- 
relative object, requiring neither abstraction, nor generalization, nor 
comparison of any kind, would, at first, be much more natural and 
easy, than to express it by those general words called prepositions, of 
of which the first invention must have demanded some degree of all 
those operations. 

The number of cases is different in different languages. There are 
five in the Greek, six in the Latin, and there are said to be ten in the 
Armenian language. It must have naturally happened that there 
should be a greater or a smaller number of cases, according as in the 
terminations of nouns substantive the first formers of any language 
happened to have established a greater or a smaller number of varia- 
tions, in order to express the different relations they had occasion to 
take notice of, before the invention of those more general and abstract 
prepositions which could supply their place. 

It is, perhaps, worth while to observe that those prepositions, which 
in modern languages hold the place of the ancient cases, are, V)f all 
others, the most general, and abstract, and metaphysical ; and of con- 
sequence, would probably be the last invented. Ask any man of com- 
mon acuteness. What relation is expressed by the preposition above f 
He will readily answer, that oi superiority. By the preposition below f 
He will as quickly reply that of inferiority. But ask him, what relation 
is expressed by the preposition of^ and, if he has not beforehand em- 
ployed his thoughts a good deal upon these subjects, you may safely 
allow him a week to consider of his answer. The prepositions above and 
below do not denote any of the relations expressed by the cases in the 


ancient languages. But the preposition of^ denotes the same relation, 
which is in them expressed by the genitive case ; and which, it is easy 
to observe, is of a very metaphysical nature. The preposition of, de- 
notes relation in general, considered in concrete with the co-relative 
object. It marks that the noun substantive which goes before it, is 
somehow or other related to that which comes after it, but without in 
any respect ascertaining, as is done by the preposition above, what is 
the peculiar nature of that relation. We often apply it, therefore, to 
express the most opposite relations ; because, the most opposite rela- 
tions agree so far that each of them comprehends in it the general idea 
or nature of a relation. We say, the father of the son, and thje son of 
the father; the fir-trees of the forest, and ihQ forest of the fir-trees. The 
relation in which the father stands to the son is, it is evident, a quite 
opposite relation to that in which the son stands to the father; that in 
which the parts stand to the whole, is quite opposite to that in which 
the whole stands to the parts. The word of, however, serves very well 
to denote all those relations, because in itself it denotes no particular 
relation, but only relation in general; and so far as any particular 
relation is collected from such expressions, it is inferred by the mind, 
not from the preposition itself, but from the nature and arrangement of 
the substantives, between which the preposition is placed. 

What I have said concerning the preposition of may in some mea- 
sure be applied to the prepositions to, for, with, by, and to whatever 
other prepositions are made use of in modem languages, to supply the 
place of the ancient cases. They all of them express very abstract and 
metaphysical relations, which any man, who takes the trouble to try it, 
will find it extremely difficult to express by nouns substantive, in the 
same manner as we may express the relation denoted by the preposi- 
tion above, by the noun substantive superiority. They all of them,- 
however, express some specific relation, and are, consequently, none of 
them so abstract as the preposition of, which may be regarded as by 
far the most metaphysical of all prepositions. The prepositions, there- 
fore, which are capable of supplying the place of the ancient cases, 
being more abstract than the other prepositions, would naturally be of 
more difficult invention. The relations at the same time which those 
prepositions express, are, of all others, those which we have most 
frequent occasion to mention. The prepositions above, below, near, 
within, without, against,' &c, are much more rarely made use of, in 
modem languages, than the prepositions of, to, for, with, from, by, A 
preposition of the former kind will not occur twice in a page ; we can 
scarce compose a single sentence without the assistance of one or two 
of the latter. If these latter prepositions, therefore, which supply the 
place of the cases, xwould be of such difficult invention on account of 
their abstractedness, some expedient to supply their place must have 
been of indispensable necessity, on account of the frequent occasion. 



which men have to take notice of the relations which they denote. But 
there is no expedient so obvious, as that of varying the termination of 
one of the principal words. . 

It is, perhaps, unnecessary to observe, that there are scwne of the 
cases in the ancient languages, which^ for particular reasons^ cannot be 
represented by any prepositions. These are the nominative, accusative,^ 
and vocative cases. In those modem languages, which do. not admit 
of any such variety in the terminations of their nouns substantive, the 
correspondent relations are expressed by the place of tha words, and 
by the order and construction of the sentence. 

As men have frequently occasion to make mention of multitudes as 
well as of single objects, it became necessary that they should have 
some method of expressing number. Number may be expressed either 
by a particular word, expressing number in general, such as the words 
many, more, &c., or by some variation upon the words which express 
the things numbered. It is this last expedient which mankind would 
probably have recourse to, in the infancy of language. Niunber, con- 
sidered in general, without relation to any particular set of objects 
numbered, is one of the most abstract and metaphysical ideas, which 
the mind of man is capable of forming ; and, consequently^ is not an 
idea, which would readily occur to rude mortals, who were just begin- 
ning to form a language. They would naturally, therefore, distinguish 
when they talked of a single, and when they talked of a multitude of 
objects, not by any metaphysical adjectives, such as the Enghsh a, atiy 
many, but by a variation upon the termination of the word which 
signified the objects numbered. Hence the origin of the singular and 
plural numbers, in all the ancient languages ; and the same distinction 
has likewise been retained in aU the modem languages, at least, in the 
greater part of the words. 

All primitive and uncompounded languages seem to have a dual, as 
well as a plural number. This is the case of the Greek, and I am told 
of the Hebrew, of the Gothic, and of many other languages. In the 
rude beginnings of society, one, two, and more, might possibly be all 
the numeral distinctions which mankind would have any occasion to 
take notice of. These they would find it more natural to express, by a 
variation upon every particular noun substantive, than by such general 
and abstract words as one, two, three, four, &c. These words, though 
custom Jias rendered them familiar to us, express, perhaps, the most 
subtile and refined abstractions, which the mind of -man is capable of 
forming. Let any one consider within himself^ for example, what he 
means by the word three, which, signifies neither three shillings, nor 
three pence, nor three men, nor three horses, but three in general; and 
he will easily satisfy himself that a word, which denotes so very meta- 
physical an abstraction, could not be either a very obvious or a very 
early invention. I have read of some savage natiaos, whqse language 


was capable of expressing no more than the three fifst numeral dis- 
tinctions. But whether it expressed those distinctions by three general 
words, or by variations upon the nouns substantive, denoting the things 
numbered, I do not remember to have met with any thing which could 
clearly determine* 

As all the same relations 'which subsist between single, may likewise 
subsist between numerous objects, it is evident there would be occasion 
Tor the same number of cases in the dual and in the plural, as in the 
singular number. Hence the intricacy and com^lexness of the declen- 
sions in all the ancient languages. In the Gr^ek there are five cases 
in each of the three numbers, consequently fifteen in all.-> 

As nouns adjective, in the ancient languages, varied their terminations 
according to the gender of the substantive to which they were applied, 
so did they likewise ' according to the case and the number. Every 
noun adjective in the Greek language, therefore, having three genders, 
and three numbers, and five cases in each number, may be considered 
as having five and forty diflferent variations. The first formers of lan- 
guage seem to have varied the termination of the adjective, according 
to the case and the number of the substantive, for the same reason 
which made them vary it according to the gender; the love of analogy, 
and of a certain regularity of sound. In the signification of adjectives 
there is neither case nor number, and the meaning of such words is 
always precisely the same, notwithstanding all the variety of termina- 
tion under which they appear. Magnus vir, magni viri, magtMnim 
virorumj a great man, of a great man, of great men; in all these 
expressions the words, magnns, magni, magnorum, as well as the word 
great, have precisely one and the same signification, though the sub- 
stantives to which they are applied have not. The difference of termi- 
nation in the noun adjective is accompanied with no sort of difference 
in the meaning. Ah adjective denotes the qualification of a noun sub- 
stantive. But the different relations in which that noun substantive 
may occasionally stand, can make no sort of difference upon its qualifi- 
cation. If the declensions of the ancient languages are so very com- 
plex, their conjugations are infinitely more so. And the complexness 
of the one is founded upon the same principle with that of the other, 
the difficulty of forming, in the beginnings of language, abstract and 
general terms. 

Verbs must necessarily have been coeval with the very first attempts 
towards the formation of language. No affirmation can be expressed 
Mrithout the assistance of some verb. We never speak but in order to 
express our opinion that something either is or is not. But the word ' 
denoting this event, or this matter of fact, which is the subject of our 
affirmation, must always be a verb. 

Impersonal verbs, which express in one word a complete? • event, 
which preserve in the expression that perfect simplicity and unity, 

21 ^ 


which there always is in the object and in the idea, and which suppose 
no abstraction, or ' metaphysical division of the event into its several 
constituent members of subject and attribute, would, in all probability, 
be the species of verbs first invented. The verbs //«//, tt rains; ningity 
it snows; ionat, it thunders; iucet, it is day; turbatur, there is a con- 
fusion^ &c., each of them express a complete affirmation, the whole of 
an event, with that perfect simplicity and unity with which the mind 
conceives it in nature. On the contrary, the phrases, Alexander ambu- 
late Alexander walks; Petrus sedet, Peter sits, divide the event, as it 
were, into two parts, the person or subject, and the attribute, or matter 
of fact, affirmed of that subject. But in nature, the idea or conception 
of Alexander walking, is as perfectly and completely one simple con- 
ception, as that of Alexander not walking. The division of this event, 
therefore, into two parts, is altogether artificial, and is the effect of the 
imperfection of language, which, upon this, as upon many other occa- 
sions, supplies, by a number of words, the want of one, which could 
express at once the whole matter of fact that was meant to be affirmed. 
Every body must observe how much more simplicity there is in the 
natural expression, pluity than in the more artificial expressions, imber 
decidit, the rain falls; or tempestas est pluvia, the weather is rainy. 
In these two last "expressions, the simple event, or matter of fact, is 
artificially split and divided in the one, into two ; in the other, into 
three parts. In each of them it is expressed by a sort of grammatical 
circumlocution, of which the significancy is founded upon a certain 
metaphysical analysis of the component parts of the idea expressed by 
the word //«//. The first verbs, therefore, perhaps even the first words, 
made use of in the beginnings of language^ would in all probability be 
such impersonal verbs. It is observed ac(:ordingly, I am told, by the 
Hebrew grammarians, that the radical words of tiieir language, from 
which all the others are derived, are all of them verbs, and impersonal 

It is easy to conceive how, in the progress of language, those imper- 
sonal verbs should become personal Let us suppose, for example, 
that the word venit^ it comes^ was originally an impersonal verb, and 
that it denoted, not the coming of something in general, as at present, 
but the coming of a particular object, such as the lion. The first 
savage inventors of language, we shall suppose, when they observed 
the approach of this terrible animal, were accustomed to cry out to one 
another, venit^ that is, the lion comes; and that this word thus expressed 
a complete event, without the assistance of any other. Afterwards, 
when, on the further progress of language, they had begun to give 
names to particular substances, whenever they observed the approach 
of any other terrible object, they would naturally join the name of that 
object to the word venitj and cry out, venit ursus^ venit lupus. By 
degrees the word venit would thus come to signify the coming of any 


terrible object, and not merely the coming of the lion. It would, now, 
therefore, express, not the coming of a particular object, but the com- 
ing of an object of a particular kind. Having become more general in 
its signification, it could no longer represent any particular distinct 
event by itself, and without the assistance of a noun substantive, which 
might serve to ascertain and determine its signification. It would 
now, therefore, have become a personal, instead of an impersonal verb. 
We may easily conceive how, in the further progress of society, it 
might still grow more general in its signification, and come to signify, 
as at present, the approach of any thing whatever, whether it were 
good, bad, or indifferent 

It is probably in some such manner as this, that almost all verbs 
have become personal, and that mankind have learned by degrees to 
split and divide almost every event into a great number of metaphysical 
parts, expressed by the different parts of speech, variously combined in 
the different members of every phrase and sentence.* The same sort 
of progress seems to have been made in the art of speaking as in the 
art of writing. When mankind first began to attempt to express their 
ideas by writing, every character represented a whole word. But the 
number of words being almost infinite, the memory found itself quite 
loaded and oppressed by the multitude of characters which it was 
obliged to retain. Necessity taught them, therefore, to divide words 
into their elements, and to invent characters which should represent, 
not the words themselves, but the elements of which they were com- 
posed. In consequence of this invention, every particular word c^e 
to be represented, not by one character, but by a multitude of characters ; 
and the expression of it in writing became much more intricate and 
complex than before. But though particular words were thus repre- 
sented by a greater number of characters, the whole language was ex- 
pressed by a much smaller, and about four and twenty letters were found 
capable of supplying the place of that immense multitude of characters, 
which were requisite before. In the same manner, in the beginnings 
of language, men seem to have attempted to express every particular 
event, which they had occasion to take notice of, by a particular word, 
which expressed at once the whole of that event. But as the number 
of words must, in this case, have become really infinite in consequence 
of the really infinite variety of events, men found themselves partly 
compelled by necessity, and partly conducted by nature, to dividp 

* As the far greater part of verbs express, at present, not an event, but the attribute of an 
event, and, consequently, require a subject, or nominative case, to complete their signification, 
some grammarians, not having attended to this progress of nature, and being desirous to make 
their common rules quite universal, and without any exception, have insisted that all verbs 
required a nominative, either expressed or understood ; and have, accordingly, put themselves 
to the torture to find some awkward nominatives to those few verbs which still expressing a 
complete event, plainly admit of none. Pluit^ for example, according to Sanctins^ means - 
pluina pluitj in English, the rain rains. See Sanctii Minerva, 1. 3. c. x. ' 


every event into what may be called its tnctapliymcal elements, and to 
institute words, which should denote not so much the events, as the 
elements of which they were composed. The expression of every par- 
ticular event, became in this manner more intricate and complex, but 
the whole system of the language became more coherent, more con- 
nected, more easily retained and comprehended 

When verbs, from being originally impersonal, had thus, by the 
division of the event into its metaphysical elements, become personal 
it is natural to suppose tih»t they would first be made use of in the third 
person singular. No verb is ever used impersonally in our language 
nor, so far as I know, in any other modem tongue. But in the ancient 
lajiguages, whenever any verb is used impersonally, it is always in the 
: third person singular. Theteianinationof those verbs, which are still 
always impersonal, is constantly the same with that of the third person 
. singular of personal verbs. The consideration of these circumstMices, 
joined to the naturalness of the thing itself, may therefore serve to 
.convince us that verbs ^rst became personal. in what is now called the 
third person singular. 

But as the event, or matter of fact, which is expressed by a verb, may 
be affirmed either of the person who speaks, or of the person who is 
spoken to, as well as of some third person or object, it becomes neces- 
sary to fall upon some method of expressing these two peculiar relations 
of the event In the English language this is commonly done, by pre- 
fixing, what are called the personal pronouns, to the general wood 
•which expresses the event affirmed. I came^ you came^ he or it came; 
in these phrases the event of having come is, in the first, affirmed of 
the speaker ; in the second, of the person spoken to ; in the third, of 
some other person or object The first formers of language, it maybe 
imagined, might, have done the same thing, and prefixing in the same 
manner the two first personal pronouns, to the same tiMtnination of the 
verb, which expressed the third person singular, might have said ego 
■venit, tu venit, as well as ille or illudvenit. And I make no doubt but 
they would have done so, if at the time when ' they had first occasion 
to express these relations of the verb there had been any such words 
as either ego or tu in their language. But in this early period of the 
language, which we are now endeavouring to describe, it is extremely 
jmprobSible that any such words would be known. Though custom has 
now rendered them familiar to us, they, both of them, express ideas 
extremely metaphysical and abstract. The word /, for example, is a 
word of a very particular species. Whatever speaks may deno tg itself, 
by this personal pr onoun. The word /, therefore, is a general word, 
capable of being predicated, as the logicians say, of an infinite variety" 
of objects. It differs, however, from all other general words in this 
respect ; that the object of which it may be predicated, do not form 
any particular species of objects distinguished from all others. The 


word /, does not, like the word man^ denote a particular class of objects 
separated from all others by peculiar qualities of their own. It is far \ 
from being the name of a species, but, on the contrary, whenever it is 
made use of, it always denotes a precise individual, the particulaj^per??^ 
who then speaks. It may be said to be, at once, both what the logi- 
cians call, a singular,- and what they call, a common term ; and to join, 
in its signification the seemingly opposite qualities of the most precise 
individuality and the most extensive "generalization. This word, there- 
fore, expressing ^so very abstract and metaphysical an idea, would not 
easily or readily occur to the first formers of language. What are 
called the personal pronouns, it may be observed, are among the last 
words of which children learn to make use. A child, speaking of itself, 
says, Billy walks, Billy stts, insteads of / walk, I sit. As in the begin- 
nings of language, therefore, mankind seem to have evaded the inven- ( 
tion of at least the more abstract prepositions, and to have expressed 1 
the same relations which these now stand for, by varying the termina- » 
tion of the co-relative term, so they likewise would naturally attempt 
to evade the necessity of inventing those more abstract pronouns by ^ 
varyiag the termination of the veib, according as the event which it 
expressed was intended to be affirmed of the first, second, or third 
person. This seems, accordingly, to be the universal practice of ail 
the ancient languages. In Latin, veni, venisti, venit, sufticientiy de- 
note, without any other addition, the different events expressed by the 
English phrases, / came, you came, he or it cam^. The verb would, for 
the same reason, vary its termination, according ^s the event was 
intended to be affirmed of the first, second, or third persons plural ; 
and what is expressed by the English phrases, we came, ye caine, they 
£ame, wduld be denoted by the Latin vfords, venimus, venisitis,veneunt. 
Those primitive languages, too, which upon account of the difficulty of 
inventing numeral names, had introduced a dual, as well as a plural 
number, into the declension of their nouns substantive, would probably, 
from analogy, do the same thing in the conjugations of their verbs. 
And thus in all original languages, we might expect to find, at least six, 
if not eight or nine variations, in the termination of every verb, ac- 
cording as the event which it denoted was meant to be affirmed of the 
first, second, or third persons singular, dual, or plural. These varia- 
tions again being repeated, along with others, through all its different 
tenses, through ill its different modes, and through all its different 
voices, must necessarily have rendered their conjugations still more 
intricate and complex than their declensions. 

Language would probably have continued upon thi^ footing in all 
countries, nor would ever have grown more simple in its declensions 
and conjugations, had it not become more complex in its composition, 
in consequence of the mixture of several languages with one abother, 
occasioned by* the mixture of different nations. As long as Many Ian- 


guage was spoke by those only who learned it in their infancy, the intri- 
cacy of its declensions and conjugations could occasion no great embar- 
rassment. The far greater part of those who had occasion to speak it, 
had acquired it at so very early a period of their lives, so insensibly 
and by such slow degrees, that they were scarce ever sensible of the 
difficulty. But when two nations came to be mixed with one another, 
either by conquest or migration, the case would be very different. 
Each nation, in order to make itself intelligible to those with whom it 
was under the necessity of conversing, would be obliged to learn the 
language of the other. The greater part of individuals too, learning ' 
the new language, not by art, or by remounting to its rudiments and 
first principle, but by rote, and by what they commonly heard in con- 
versation, would be extremely perplexed by the intricacy of its declen- 
sions and conjugations. They would endeavour, therefore, to supply 
their ignorance of these, by whatever shift the language could afford 
them. Their ignorance of the declensions they would naturally supply 
by the use of prepositions ; and a Lombard, who was attempting to 
speak Latin, and wanted to express that such a person was a citizen of 
Rome, or a benefactor to Rome, if he happened not to be acquainted 
with the genitive and dative cases of the word Romay would naturally 
express himself by prefixing the prepositions ad and de to the nomina- 
tive ; and instead of Roma, would say, ad Roma, and de Roma. Al 
Roma and di Roma, accordingly, is the manner in which the present 
Italians, the descendants of the ancient Lombards and Romans, ex- 
press this and all other similar relations. And in this manner preposi- 
tions seem to have been introduced, in the room of the ancient declen- 
sions. The same alteration has, I am informed, been produced upon 
the Greek language, since the taking of Constantinople by the Turks. 
The words are, in a great measure, the same as before ; but the gram- 
mar is entirely lost, prepositions having come in the place of the old 
declensions. This change is undoubtedly a simplification of the lan- 
guage, in point of rudiments and principle. It introduces, instead of a 
great variety of declensions, one imiversal declension, which is the same 
in every word, of whatever gender, number, or termination. 

A similar expedient enables men, in the situation above mentioned, 
to get rid of almost the whole intricacy of their conjugations. There 
is in every language a verb, known by the name of the substantive 
verb ; in Latin, sum; in English, / am. This verb denotes not the 
existence of any particular event, but existence in general It is, upon 
that account, the most abstract and metaphysical of all verbs ; and, 
consequently, could by no means be a word of early invention. When 
it came to be invented, however, as it had all the tenses and modes of 
any other verb, by being joined with the passive participle, it was 
capable of supplying the place of the whole passive voice, and of 
rendering this part of their conjugations as simple and uniform as the 


use of prepositions had rendered their declensions. A Lombard, who 
wanted to say, / am lovedy but could not recollect the word amoTy 
naturally endeavoured to supply his ignorance, by saying ego sum 
amatus, lo sono amato^ is at this day the Italian expression, which 
corresponds to the English phrase above mentioned. 

There is another verb, which, in the same [manner, runs through all 
languages, and which is distinguished by the name of the possessive 
verb ; in Latin, habeo; in English, / have. This verb, likewise, denotes 
an event of an extremely abstract and metaphysical nature, and, con- 
sequently, cannot be supposed to have been a word of the earliest 
invention. When it came to be invented, however, by being applied 
to the passive participle, it was capable of supplying a great part of the 
active voice, as the substantive verb had supplied the whole of the 
passive. A Lombard, who wanted to say, / had loved, byt could not 
recollect the word amaveram, would endeavour to supply the place of it, 
by saying either ego habebam amatum or ego habui amatum, lo avevd 
amato, or lo ebbi amato, are the correspondent Italian expressions at this 
day. And thus upon the intermixture of different nations with one ano- * 
ther, the conjugations, by means of different auxiliary verbs, were made 
to approach the simplicity and uniformity of the declensions. 

In general it may be laid down for a maxim, that the more simple 
any language is in its composition, the more complex it must be in its ' 
declensions and its conjugations ; and on the contrary, the more simple "s 
it is in its declensions and its conjugations, the more complex it must 
be in its composition. 

The Greek seems to be, in a great measure, a simple, uncompounded 
language, formed from the primitive jargon of those wandering savages, 
the ancient Hellenians and Pelasgians, from whom the Greek nation is 
said to have been descended. All the words in the Greek language are 
derived from about three hundred primitives, a plain evidence that the 
Greeks formed their language almost entirely among themselves, and 
that when they had occasion for a new word, they were not accustomed, 
as we are, to borrow it from some foreign language, but to form it, 
either by composition or derivation, from some other word or words, 
in their own. The declensions and conjugations, therefore, of the 
Greek are much more complex than those of any other European lan- 
guage with which I am acquainted. 

The Latin is a composition of the Greek and of the ancient Tuscan 
languages. Its declensions and conjugations accordingly are much less 
complex than those of the Greek ; it has dropped the dud number in both. 
Its verbs have no optative mood distinguished by any peculiar termi- 
nation. They have but one future. They have no aorist distinct from 
the preterit-perfect; they have no middle voice; and even many of 
their tenses in the passive voice are eked out, in the same manner as 
in the modem languages, by the help of the substantive verb joined to 


the passive participle. In both the voices, the number of infinitives 
and participles is much smaller in the Latin than in the Greek. 

The French and Italian languages are each of them compounded, 
the one of the Latin and the language of the ancient Franks, the other 
of the same Latin and the language of the ancient Lombards. As 
they are both of them, therefore, more complex in their composition 
than the Latin, so are they likewise more simple in their declensions 
and conjugations. With regard to their declensions, they have both of 
them lost their cases altogether; and with regard to their conjugations, 
they have both of them lost the whole of the passive, and some part of 
the active voices of their verbs. The want of the passive voice they 
supply entirely by the substantive verb joined to the passive participle ; 
and they make out part of the active, in the same manner, by the help 
of the possessive verb and the same passive participle. 

The English is compounded of the French and the ancient Saxon 
languages. The French was introduced into Britain by the Nonnan 
conquest, and continued, till the time of Edward III. to be the sole 
language of the law as well as the principal language of the court The 
English, which came to be spoken afterwards, and which continues to 
be spoken now, is a mixture of the anciait Saxon and this Norman 
French. As the English language, therefore, is more complex in its 
composition than either the French or the Italian, so is it likewise more 
simple in its declensions and conjugations. Those two languages re- 
tain, at least, a part of the distinction of genders, and their adjectives 
vary their termination according as they are applied to a masculine or 
to a feminine substantive. But there is nonsuch distinction in the 
English language, whose adjectives admit of no variety of termination. 
The French and Italian languages have, both of them, the remains of 
a conjugation; and all.diose tenses of the active voice, which cannot 
be expressed by the possessive verb joined to the passive. participle, as 
well as many of those which can, are, in those languages, marked by 
varying the termination of the principal verb. But almost all those 
other tenses are in the English eked out by other auxiliary verbs, so 
that there is in this language scarce even the remains of a conjugation. 
/ love^ I lovedy loving, are all the varieties of termination which the 
greater part of the English verbs admit of. All the different modifica- 
tions of meaning, which cannot be expressed by any of those three 
terminations, must be made out by different auxiliary verbs joined to 
some one or other of them. Two auxiliary verbs supply all the defi- 
ciencies of the French and Italian conjugations; it requires more than 
half a dozen to supply those of the English, which, besides the sub- 
stantive and possessive verbs, makes use of ^, didj ^illy would j sMall, 
yshouldj can, could; may, might 

It is in this manner that language becomes -more simple in its nidi- 
ments and principles, just in proportion as it grows more complex in 


its:cozDpositiony and the same thing has happened in it, which com- 
monly happens wkh regard to mechanical engines. All machines are 
generally, when first invented, extremely complex in their principles, 
and there is often a particular principle of motion for every particular 
movement which it is intended they should perform. Succeeding im- 
provers observe,' that one principle maybe so applied as to produce 
several of those movements ; and thus the madiine becomes gradually 
more and more simple, and produces its ,eflfects with fewer wheels, and 
fewer principles of motion. In language, in the same manner, every 
case of every noun, and every tense of every verb, was originally ex- 
pressed by a particular distinct word, which served for this . purpose 
and for no other. But succeeding observations discovered, that one 
set of words was capable of supplying the place of all that infinite 
number, and that four or five prepositions, and half a dozen auxiliary 
verbs, were capable of answering the end of all the declensions, and of 
all the conjugations in the ancient languages. 

But this simplification of languages, though it arises, perhaps, from 
similar causes, has by no means similar effects with the correspondent 
simplification of machines. The simplification of machines renders*^- 
them more and more perfect, but this simplification of the rudiments of \ 
languages renders them more and more imperfect, and less proper for \ 
many of the purposes of language ; and this for the following reasons. ) 

First of all, languages are by this simplification rendered niore 
prolix, several words having become necessary to express what could 
have been expressed by a single wpjdJafibjre. Thus the words, Dei 
and JDeo, in the Latin, sufficiently show, without any addition, what 
relation the object signified is understood to stand in to the objects 
expressed by the other words in the sentence. But to express the same 
relation in English, and in all other modem languages, we must make 
use of, at least, two words, and say, 0/ God, to God, So far as the declen- 
sions are concerned, therefore, the modem languages are much more 
prohx than the ancient. The difference is still greater with regard to the 
conjugations. What a Roman expressed by the single word amavissem, 
an Englishman is obliged to express by four different words, / should 
have loved. It is unnecessary to take any pains to show how much this 
prolixness must enervate the eloquence of all modem languages. How 
mucli the beauty of any expression depends upon its conciseness, is 
well known "to those who have any experience in composition. 

Secondly, this simplification of the principles of languages renders 
them less agreeable to the^ ear. The variety of termination in the , 
Greek and Latin, occS§ibned by their declensions and conjugations, 
gives a sweetness to their language altogether unknown to ours, and a 
variety unknown to any other modem language. In point of sweet- 
ness, the Italian, perhaps, may surpass the Latin, and almost equal the 
Greek; but in point of variety, it is greatly inferior: to both. 


Thirdly, this simplification, not only renders the sounds of our lan- 
guage less agreeable to the ear, but it also restrains us from disposing 
such sounds as we have, in the manner that might be most agreeable. 
It ties down many words to a particular situation, though they might 
often be placed in another with much more beauty. In the Greek and 
Latin, though the adjective and substantive were separated from one 
another, the correspondence of their terminations still showed their 
mutual reference, and the separation did not necessarily occasion any 
sort of confusion. Thus in the first line of Virgil, 

Tityre tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi ; 

we easily see that tu refers to recubans ^ zxApatulce to fagt; though the 
related words are separated from one another by the intervention of 
several others ; because the terminations, showing the correspondence 
of their cases, determine their mutual reference. But if we were to 
translate this line literally into English, and say, Tztyrus, thou oj 
spreading reclining under the shade beech^ CEdipus himself could not 
make sense of it ; because there is here no difference of termination, 
to determine which substantive each adjective belongs to. It is the 
same case with regard to verbs. In Latin the verb may often be 
placed, without any inconveniency or ambiguity, in any part of the 
sentence. But in English its place is almost always precisely deter- 
mined. It must follow the subjective and precede the objective mem- 
ber of the phrase in almost all cases. Thus in Latin whether you say, 
Joannem verberavit Robertus, or Robertus verberavit yoannem^ the 
meaning is precisely the same, and the termination fixes John to be 
the sufferer in both cases. But in EngUsh John beat Robert^ and 
Robert beaVJohn^ have by no means the same signification. The place 
therefore of the three principal members of the phrase is in the Eng- 
lish, and for the same reason in the French and Italian languages, 
almost always precisely determined ; whereas in the ancient languages 
a greater latitude is allowed, and the place of those members is often, 
in a great measure, indifferent. We must have recourse to Horace, in 
order to interpret some parts of Milton's literal translation ; 

Who now enjoys thee credulous all gold. 
Who always vacant, always amiable 
Hopes rhee ; of flattering gales 

are verses which it is impossible to interpret by any rules of our lan- 
guage. There are no rules in our language, by which any man could 
discover, that, in the first line, credulous referred to whoy and not to 
thee; or that all gold xtitxxtd. to any thing ; or, that in the fourth line, 
unmindful, referred to who, in the second, and not to thee in the third; 
or, on the contrary, that, in the second line, always vacant^ always 
amiable, referred to thee in the third, and not to who in the same line 
with it. In the Latin, indeed, all this is abundantly plain. 


Qui nunc te fruitur credulus aure&, 
Qui semper vacuam, semper amabilem 
Sperat te ; nesdus aurae fallacis. 

Because the terminations in the Latin determine the reference of each 
adjective to its proper substantive, which it is impossible for any thing 
in the English to do. How much this power of transposing the order 
of their words must have facihtated the compositions of the ancients, 
both in verse and prose, can hardly be imagined. That it must greatly 
have facilitated their versification it is needless to observe ; and in 
prose, whatever beauty depends upon the arrangement and construc- 
tion of th